46 : Pedagogical Innovation: the UTC formulæ

The key guidelines for pedagogical innovation implemented by UTC aim at ensuring the students become the actors of their personal learning process. This calls for collaborative work on real, scale-one problems, also for reverse educational lectures and serious games. The aim is not only to better arm our student-engineers to face their future professional career but also to adapt the university to comply with the specifics features that characterize a new generation of undergraduates.

46 : Pedagogical Innovation: the UTC formulæ

Two weeks to solve a ‘transverse’ problem

Over the past twelve years, interdisciplinary problem-solving workshops have enabled students from different background and majors to concretely experiment the advantages inherent in collaborative work modes. The next workshop will bring together student-engineers from UTC with university students from Pierre & Marie Curie (Paris 6) and Paris Sorbonne (Paris 4).


The principle underscoring the workshop is to see some 30 students from various UTC majors: (mechanical engineering (UTC-GM), urban systems engineering (UTC-GSU), computer sciences and their applications (UTC-GI)…) with other students for a two-week session of intense work on a “real” problem, in a close collaboration with the companies and local authorities involved: this is the principle underscoring so-called interdisciplinary problem-solving workshops (‘AIRPs’), inaugurated as early as 2005. During the first week, the students are invited to carry out field observations of the situation and to meet the parties involved (staff of the company, experts in the subject-matter…), to analyse the problems to be solved and to come up with innovative suggestions and solutions.

They then make a presentation of their diagnosis and their proposals to a jury combining professionals and academics. During the second week, they develop the solutions deemed satisfactory and validated them with demonstrator set-ups, before submitting their final presentation of work to the jury.

Health and safety factors on work sites

“Over and above the possibility offered here to implement class-room theory, the protocol also serves as a novel way to learn to the extent that the lecturers on hand are not there to dictate what is expected of the students, but act as manpower resources to answer their questions and advise them as to solutions”, underlines Pierre-Henri Dejean, a lecturer research scientist working at the UTC-Mech. Eng Dept., who initiated the AIRP programme.

The programmes also offer a concrete way to measure the extent to which interdisciplinarity is conducive to creativity and innovation. The first workshops provided this demonstration amply. In the Framework of a partnership with the French national institute, INRS (research and safety factors), these workshops focused on design of wok areas that took into account a need for workers’ in situ comfort and prevention of professional illnesses and accidents. From the outset, students from architectural colleges and student-engineers from UTC worked together. “To the extent that architects and engineers do not speak with the same terms or manner, dialogue between these professions is often difficult”, explains Pierre-Henri Dejean. “The aim here was to have the student become aware of the need to attain optimal solutions. It was a wager that succeeded all the better because they were immersed for the two weeks in an external environment and under the obligation to find solutions in a very tight work schedule”. As a follow-on the cultural mix went beyond simple interdisciplinarity, since several European workshops were organized, with student-engineers and architecture students from France, Rumania and Sweden.

Adaptation to population ageing

For the past few years, the AIRPs have addressed a new theme – population ageing. Two years ago, to illustrate this, a workshop was devoted to adapting the ‘social’ housing for ‘Picardie Habitat’ to meet the new needs created by this ageing phenomenon. Students were invited to imagine solutions to make home displacements for seniors safer, contributing also to their physical and psychic well-being, and to making the job for helpers easier… a two-room flat that integrates their proposals is being furnished and equipped.

The next AIRP, planned for January-February 2018, will extend this theme from ageing to urban planning and to the problems specific to city-hospital relationships. “The objective here is to ensure that senior citizens experiencing gradual loss of autonomy can remain as long as possible in their own homes. They must be enable to easily access all the care and services needed”, explains Pierre-Henri Dejean. “This constitutes an objective that raises numerous questions: what remote medical services should be developed; how are we to optimize the home-hospital transport, where exactly is it relevant to install “adapted” housing in our cities, how do we ensure that senior citizens can use pavements safely, etc.?”

This workshop, conducted in a partnership with a hospital and a local authority, combines unusually diverse skills, with student-engineers from UTC, students in ergotherapy, in kinesiotherapy and in robotics from University of Paris 6 (Pierre & Marie Curie) and students reading geography and philosophy at University of Paris 4 (Paris-Sorbonne). Indeed this is one of the projects earmarked as laureate in the latest call for proposals for innovative, pedagogical initiatives launched by the Sorbonne Universities Cluster.