The way in which students learn in the Student Project House offers a groundbreaking model for the future of teaching, says Springman. The Rector believes it is important not only to foster technical skills and methodological competence, but also to promote students’ personal and social skills. These include being able to motivate themselves and others, communicate clearly, cope with change and recognise their own limits.
The Student Project House is but one of many projects to pursue this goal. Others include ETH Week and ETH Singapore Month – both of which provide a similar opportunity for students from a range of academic departments to work in interdisciplinary teams and seek solutions to current challenges. And there is also the student-led initiative Prisma, which aims to expand the use of interdisciplinary project work in existing study programmes. To strengthen these kinds of formats, their administration was recently placed under the aegis of the Rectorate. In addition to these flagship initiatives, there are many other similar projects, both big and small, which form an integral part of the curriculum of almost all ETH degree programmes.
Nevertheless, there is one aspect in which they all differ from the Student Project House. “Our projects don’t come to an end when the semester does,” says Hanselmann. It often takes longer than a semester for someone to truly experience the value of iterative learning and entrepreneurship, he explains. What’s more, some of the projects in the Student Project House originated from curricular project work but continued to exert a hold on their creators long after their study programme had moved on.
Springman sees this as a positive sign: “When I watch project teams at work in the Student Project House or similar settings, I see that keen curiosity you often get from first-year students, right down to their body language! That level of motivation is perfect for learning.” She would like to see more of this atmosphere in the curricular courses as well, but unfortunately the teaching canon often leaves far too little room for more active learning.
Ironically, the pandemic may have given her hopes a boost, now that mandatory remote learning has led many more lecturers to record their lectures. In future, this may mean that students are able to acquire some of the subject matter outside of the lecture hall, thereby freeing up valuable teaching time for forms of learning in which students have an opportunity to venture into unfamiliar territory.