Our goal is to bring BSc students from different backgrounds together for a semester elective course, where they can build connections among disciplines and bridge their knowledge to society. Supported by experts and MSc student coaches, student teams use Design Thinking methods to find potential solutions for relevant challenges to today’s society. Each year, the course is themed on a new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).
Knowing how to work efficiently in a multidisciplinary team is a must for most jobs. It is also important to be able to deal with the uncertainty of rapidly changing and unpredictable situations, without being overwhelmed. However, it is not practiced enough at ETH, specially at BSc level. In this course, we want to provide the best possible conditions for students to be able to do so.
How was it done?
The course is divided into the four Design Thinking stages:
- Empathize: get familiar with current problems connected to the given SDG by
interviewing the users on the street and doing desk-research
- Define: formulate an actionable problem statement that will serve as the starting point
for the formulation of innovative solutions
- Ideate: brainstorm to find potential solutions to the identified challenge in a multidisciplinary team
- Test: choose one approach, build a simple prototype and use it to ask the users for
Teams of five BSc students go through several iterations of this cycle during the course, guided by trained MSc student coaches. The teams follow a tight time schedule and they never know what the next step will be, which does not allow them to plan for it. This fosters their Adaptability and Flexibility competence. In the final class, they present their findings to relevant industry partners, who might be interested in implementing some of the ideas.
Results &/or Outlook & Next Steps:
The participants of our pilot course in the autum semester 2020 were enthusiastic about their projects and their final pitches showed a deep reflection on the topic in a very short time. While they complained about not knowing right away which steps they were supposed to follow, they successfully learned to deal with this uncertainty. They found out what their natural role in a team is and recognized the benefits of working in a multidisciplinary team.
The main barrier for integrating this course into the ETH Bachelor is that it is time-intensive and does not easily fit into the tight curricula. Although our initial goal was to make it accessible to all students, the first pilot semester course had only a small audience. We are currently experimenting with an alternative format (a summer block course of one week),
which might be easier to attain for more students.