Yves Pedrazzini

Design together – the ENAC weeks

ENAC sections, 2nd year Bachelor

Aim: to propose students to work on a first interdisciplinary projet already in 2nd year bachelor – courses are stopped for one week and students can focus on their hand’s on project.

Key words: interdisciplinary project early in the curriculum, interdisciplinary co-teaching, learning by doing

The following script is going more in details in Yves’s program, including the ENAC weeks. It gives every information required for a professor (or someone designing curriculum) to reproduce a similar program in their section/faculty.

Design Together Program

The ENAC week is part of a larger framework that accommodates the link between theoretical and practical skills – a program level umbrella called Design Together. At the core of Design Together is ENAC’s interdisciplinary ethos which runs through the program.

Design Together is composed of multiple bricks in the curriculum, including:

  • The ENAC week at the 4th semester – a week long obligatory hands-on project-based learning for all BA students
  • The ENAC teaching unit at 6th semester – an obligatory project-based semester course for all ENAC BA students 
  • The ENAC semester project and the ENAC Summer Workshop at the Master level

The main idea behind these curricular components is to prepare students to work  in an interdisciplinary way on complex wicked problems that demand collaboration and creative solutions. By implementing the ENAC week as part of the regular obligatory curriculum, students get acquainted with an interdisciplinary mindset early on in their studies and this helps in understanding that problems they will be tackling in their careers demand solutions at the intersection of different disciplines. 

Developing a curricular initiative such as Design Together

Initiatives such as Design Together are unique opportunities where sections can come together and develop valuable educational content that prepares students for complex problems they will face as future engineers. While it brings a lot of value to the student experience, it also requires efforts from the sections and faculties including: 

  1. Jointly redesigning the curriculum – initiatives such as Design Together follow a curricular logic that, regardless of the students’ main discipline, students are exposed to interdisciplinary projects at several moments. For this to happen in a logical and organic way, sections need to deliberately create or recreate parts of the curriculum to host such experiences and create these learning bricks.
  2. Developing a strong project-based learning aspect – working on interdisciplinary projects that are complex and demand student collaboration and engagement are essential components of initiatives such as Design Together. 
  3. Coordination – it is necessary to have large curricular initiatives such as Design Together well coordinated and for this it is often helpful to have staff dedicated to take care of coordination so that teachers can focus on the content. 
  4. Budget and faculty support – since the focus is on hands-on work, budget needs to be made available for teachers in order to develop their content. Furthermore, the faculty leadership needs to provide adequate support for teachers to work in a team and create a truly interdisciplinary course. Incentivising elements such as team teaching, interdisciplinarity and project-based learning is a key element in developing initiatives such as Design Together.


The ENAC week is the first and essential curricular brick of the Design Together programme. The Week is not about putting students from three sections in a classroom together, but rather having them meet each other and focus on practical work that often involves building or making something tangible. In this way the students are exposed to sharing practical knowledge and skills, along with questioning the theoretical concepts that they know from the classroom. 

For the ENAC week, it is important that students see it as an integral part of their education; during this week they do not have any other classes. In this way the format allows the students to fully immerse themselves and concentrate on one single project during one week. The ENAC week involves all second year ENAC Bachelor students (about 270), and it is organised around several (typically around 12 to 14) unique topics.  

Finally, there is an added transdisciplinary aspect to it, where the projects come with societal problems, hence making students think and engage with the public sphere, outside of the main disciplines. 

Developing ENAC week

  1. Umbrella approach – educational initiatives such as the ENAC week need to be well integrated and coherent with the rest of the student learning experience and study plan. It helps, in this case, that the ENAC week is part of the Design Together program and as such follows the faculty ethos and it is not seen as an isolated event.
  2. Team teaching – teachers coming together from three different sections under the same faculty seems easy in theory, but may prove more difficult in practice. ENAC week teachers adhere to the strong interdisciplinary ethos of Design Together and seek to expand their project based ideas with teachers in other disciplines. Apart from the challenge that is given for the student projects, there is a good deal of understanding on how to make the project challenge equally interesting for students from  different disciplines as well as how the assessment will work favourably for everyone. 
  3. Resources – The ENAC week is specific for its hands-on approach in which students physically move away from the classrooms and practically apply knowledge they have or test out assumptions which will be backed up by concepts they will learn in their next semesters. For this to run smoothly for a week, material, space and human resources are important. Particularly human resources, such as coaches and assistants, need to be well thought through the process of student learning during the week.
  4. Coordination – to run the week in a smooth way, it is important to have a well organised coordinated system. In a similar way as for the whole program, it is useful to appoint a dedicated coordinator that will be in charge of overlooking the smooth operation of the Week and allow teachers to focus on what matters in terms of student learning.

Teaching and supervising aspect

Co-teaching is a pedagogical model where teachers come together to design, implement and evaluate a single taught module. Based on the experiences shared through the ENAC week, but also found in literature (Felipe et al. 2017), co-teaching or collaborative teaching offers a rich base to develop true interdisciplinary content and explore problems from multiple dimensions. In this way, co-teaching in the ENAC week is developed through interdisciplinary teaching teams in which the focus is really on bringing teachers from all three sections (Architecture, Civil Engineering and Environmental Sciences and Engineering).

Teachers from three different sections of ENAC come together to co-design a learning experience that is reflected in a week-long hands-on problem. Each teacher needs to ensure their subject is well represented and can be evaluated through students’ response to the problem. This way of thinking about student learning is more organic as it does not rely on a single discipline, but also more challenging as teachers need to map out how their disciplines overlap. Further challenges also include aligning feedback and assessment criteria which often come with teachers’ expectations of students and are often not clearly communicated to student teams (Felipe et al. 2017). This has been some of the experiences at ENAC week, where teachers come from different cultures and need time and effort to formulate well-aligned common goals. 

Developing co-teaching and team teaching initiatives

Co-teaching comes in different models, and one that is widespread across academic teaching is one teaches, one assists. However, in initiatives such as the ENAC Week co-teaching is rather following a model of team teaching with an understanding that each teacher equally engages in developing and delivering the educational content. For this to happen it is rather important that teachers can get along in working together and start collaborating at an early stage. There are different ways to develop team teaching initiatives, and some ideas are the following:

  1. Well integrated content – selecting a project problem that helps develop further thinking within and between the disciplines. The content needs to reflect the heterogeneity of students in terms of knowledge and skills, and ensure the equilibrium between disciplines
  2. Building on theoretical and conceptual knowledge – the problem can be set to reflect what students already learned in classes
  3. Testing ideas – the content can be develop to test some ideas students have, and explore a priori theoretical and conceptual ideas that teacher(s) will teach in the upcoming classes
  4. Coaches and assistants – with hands-on, interdisciplinary content, students will need support from additional human resources such as coaches, technical and content assistants. People who work with students should ideally be included in the planning and potentially formative evaluation (feedback)