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

Urb’Act, learning by games

How, we may ask, are we supposed to train students to engage in concertation in regard to an urban planning project? One answer lies in Urb’Act, a “serious game” that makes use of the digital display tables and tactile screens installed in the ‘Digital Hall’.

As often occurs with urban planning projects, the parties engaged focus on attaining their own objectives, and these often prove mutually incompatible. Let us imagine that the prime contractor (viz., the locally elected authorities) wish to build a new urban pole by irrigating and densifying an urban zone: for example, the promoters (who finance the operation) will seek to promote a less dense housing scheme but with high-price accommodation, i.e., that will sell at a more expensive level, while the society at large (the inhabitants and associations) would like to see a maximum area devote to green-band land and also to ensure accessibility to the ‘going’ market prices.

“In a classic course or even in seminal formation, it is impossible to have the students become aware of how important (and difficult) it is to come to agreements among parties”, underlines Nathalie Molines, senior lecturer in geography at the UTC Dept. of Urban Systems Engineering (GSU). “In like manner, it is difficult to have them become more aware of the financial implication of each decision and the impact of multiple unknowns that can occur along the 10-15 years that is the typical span for an urban project. Hence our idea to get them involved via a serious game “Urb’Act” that we are developing currently with support of the Sorbonne Universities Cluster.”


A prototype ready for July 2018

This game-oriented “app” will specifically rely on using the tactile tables and displays installed in the Digital Hall. In just two sessions (each 2h), the game will model a complete project from ‘design-conception’ to final prototype delivery. Round each table, 3 pairs if students will decide among themselves who plays the role of prime contractor, financiers and promoters. Each student will receive a card outlining the positions to be defended.

On the table, the participants will have a digitized planning zone, enabling them to inscribe the project boundaries: noting where exiting constructions will be preserved, or/destroyed, where buildings will be built, with relevant communication routes and facilities… In order to define this global plan, the students will be require to discuss and converge wherever possible to conciliate the desiderata of each party, while guaranteeing a balanced budget, functional and social ‘mixity’ and the assurance that the project as a whole is compliant with current environmental standards.

As the game progresses, they will be required to take other external factors into account: e.g., a change in political majority, a financial crisis which will need a complete redefinition of the project and/or rescheduling of the investments over time. Following these two 2h sessions, the academic in charge will debrief the work done and proposals: were they ‘operationally acceptable’ or not and if so, why?

The objective of the ongoing Urb’Act project is to develop a prototype of the game by July 2018. The latter will be field-tested with students registered for urban system engineering at UTC, but also with students doing a Master’s degree in urban planning at University of Paris 4 (Paris-Sorbonne). Other projects will follow to experiment the gaming approach with other audiences, incorporating improvements as the games evolve.