By: Frederikke Malling Hansen
‘Experts in Team Innovation is a course in which we try to allow the students to experience how interdisciplinarity can support innovation. We do this in some experience-based courses,’ says Steffen Kjær Johansen, who is the coordinator of ‘Experts in Team Innovation’ at the Faculty of Engineering.
Experts in Team Innovation is a large course with around 400 students and 14 lecturers. The course is placed in the fifth semester for TEK students and aims to bring interdisciplinarity into play.
‘It’s not just one specialist field of engineering that can solve this challenge. Something more is needed. The interdisciplinary element needs to be brought in to develop a good solution to the challenge that’s being posed,’ says Steffen Kjær Johansen further.
The many students on the course are divided into different classes, which they call ‘themes’. For each theme, the students are faced with a challenge in the form of a ‘wicked problem’, which means a problem that is complex and challenging to solve.
The Climate Plan as a theme
The challenges can come from many places – both from research groups and from companies. This autumn, SDU was one of the task setters, presenting SDU’s Climate Plan as a challenge for the students.
‘The students have to come up with different possible solutions and proposals for how SDU can meet the goals of the Climate Plan,’ explains Steffen Kjær Johansen.
Although this class has the Climate Plan as its theme, the students must also discuss the other World Goals and not just those relating to the climate and the green transition. At the same time, it’s not only the classes with a focus on climate and sustainability that must take the World Goals into account: all the students on the course have to do so,’ he explains and points out:
‘All the students will the bring the Global Goals into their deliberations. They do this based on the premise that there are no companies in today’s Denmark that can avoid taking a position on the World Goals in one way or another.’
The UN’s 17 Global Goals have a role
Regardless of whether the UN’s World Goals, the climate or sustainability have an explicit role for the task setter, all students must incorporate the World Goals when making deliberations in their work on the challenge and the wicked problem, which is exactly why the 17 World Goals have an important role in the TEK course.
‘Of course, the students also examine what kind of relationship the company has with the Global Goals and how the company is already working with them. Ultimately, when our students have produced a solution for the company, they must look at how the company’s relationship with the World Goals is, now that the company has this new solution,’ explains Steffen Kjær Johansen.
When the students finish this course, not only do they take with them useful knowledge about the specific task setter, but they also take with them knowledge of the UN’s Global Goals and how they can work with them.
‘No matter what, this is the world that companies are embedded in now, so they must have an understanding of the World Goals and be able to work with the World Goals. And that’s what we’re teaching our students how to do,’ says Steffen Kjær Johansen.
The idea behind the course
The ideas behind the course were already forming around the turn of the millennium in Trondheim, Norway. It was becoming clear that the students who graduated from the university were missing something and they did not feel very comfortable in their working lives.
‘Analysis showed that there was a lack of interdisciplinary contact. It was very silo-like, so they didn’t get to talk to each other across departments in the companies. They couldn’t form the necessary networks,’ explains Steffen Kjær Johansen.
In order to create good solutions in the workplace, it was necessary to use engineers who could communicate across professional boundaries.
The idea behind the course has been further developed, and today it has become the Experts in Team Innovation course in which innovation has been allowed to play a much larger role.
‘This is because our students are trained in group work from day one when they come to TEK. Therefore, the group dynamic has already been established during the first four semesters,’ explains Steffen Kjær Johansen.
After four semesters, once the students have their collaborative skills in place, they are introduced to interdisciplinary work.
‘The students must be creative together. The interdisciplinary element really boosts their opportunities and the creative potential that’s in the group,’ says Steffen Kjær Johansen and elaborates that if were only the same type of engineers in one group, they would think in the same way and within the same paradigms. It would therefore be the same solutions and ideas that they came up with.
‘The moment you have different areas of engineering and different engineering students together, something starts to happen, and perhaps a different type of solution is brought to the table,’ he explains.
Value creation matters
‘Our students have to investigate where they can help to create value in a development process or innovation process. They also gain insight into what it means to create value,’ says Steffen Kjær Johansen about the focus on the students’ learning about value creation during the course.
During the course in Experts in Team Innovation, the students do not get new learning about their core skills; rather, they get something completely different and important they can take with them from the course.
‘They learn to utilise their core skills in innovation processes and value creation processes overall. So the thing about having a focus on value creation, that’s what we’re trying to bring to the table,’ says Steffen Kjær Johansen.
In the fifth semester, TEK students therefore get a unique insight into interdisciplinary collaboration so that they are prepared for their future working lives, but they also get a unique insight into the importance of the UN’s Global Goals for today’s companies and workplaces.