The development of new and more effective ways to support the learning processes of students and professionals is one of the main challenges that educators face daily in their activity. The current opportunities offered by the technological development and the increasing familiarity of young people with digital technologies can pave the way to improved and more effective learning processes, whose outcomes can be achieved more easily, more effectively and with higher chances of becoming persistent and pervasive in the daily pursuit of these subjects.

The ELPID project is a 3-year (2019-2021) Erasmus+ Project funded by the European Commission. It aims at the development of an enriched e-learning experience to be delivered in higher education contexts, where students/learners can get used to navigating digital content, engaging in online/virtual tasks and can generally become more comfortable with digital tools. The proposed e-learning infrastructure would embrace existing Web and other ICT technologies that can facilitate technical and non-technical knowledge and information exchange and foster creativity and problem-solving in virtual project-based learning courses.

Four Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across Europe, at the end of 2018, started working on the development of contents for blended learning and on the general structure of the on-line platform for learners: Politecnico di Milano (Italy – namely the Department of Mechanical Engineering with the supervision of Prof. Gaetano Cascini), University of Zagreb (Croatia - Project Coordinator), University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Technical University of Wien (Austria). The University Computing Center of Zagreb (SRCE) is supporting these four HEIs by providing adequate and effective digital solutions to ensure the diffusion and the accessibility of learning contents through communication channels for digital lectures and practical activities that leverage learning-by-doing.

The e-learning platform that the consortium is currently developing is to be tailored and adapted on the demanding needs of design courses, especially those which use the pedagogic approach of Project Based Learning (PBL). This is based on the evidences, already gathered, that PBL and blended learning offer a significant opportunity to improve the skills of learners and keep their knowledge continuously updated by means of the combination of Classroom, Online and Mobile learning.

The validation of the e-learning platform is carried out by means of its direct use in tailored classes where students voluntarily participate in. These PBL-based classes are typically organized in close cooperation with relevant and selected industrial partners in order to allow students to start working in a real industrial environment, which simulates the life-like conditions in which they will face their future professional challenges.

During the second semester of AY 2018/2019, 4 groups composed by 8 students each (32 students from the four countries represented in the consortium) have actively participated in the ELPID class, where they had the chance to test and interact with the first prototype of the platform. Challenged by a project theme proposed by BSH/Bosch Siemens Hausgeräte, each group gathered the required knowledge for innovative product development in a full semester class.

The PBL-based class was further subdivided into 3 main phases which reflected the main stages of every product development process: market research, conceptual design and embodiment/detail design. All phases ended with a design review meeting where the students directly met a representative of the company in order to gather his/her feedback and complement the academic viewpoint with an industry-centred one. During the three phases, the students had the chance to:

  • attend both live and online lectures;
  • access a Moodle-based environment to download the teaching materials, which also include the recordings of live lectures;
  • access a virtual room to meet and hold design meeting with peers and coaches/supervisors;
  • upload, download and share files with a cloud-based file repository;
  • use available on-line resources for idea generation, creative inspiration and conceptual representation of ideas;
  • retrieve design-relevant information from available sources, database and data banks (e.g. patents, market figures…) that can strengthen the strategic vision of students.

    Project meetings and design activities, by group, were supervised by expert members of the four HEIs (e.g. Post Docs and Assistant Professors), which coached the students throughout all phases and provided them with feedbacks and suggestions.

    After 3 months of collaborative design activity that students typically shared in a virtual and mobile environment, they eventually participated in a blended short/term mobility initiative: a one-week final workshop held in Slovenia, where they had the chance to meet and work face-to-face. For the first four days, the students worked together at the University of Ljubljana on the refinement of their designs as well as on the effective communication of their proposals. On the fifth day, they had the chance to visit the BSH factory where they presented a business pitch in front of the company management.

    The gathered feedbacks show that the initiative was extremely effective for the students, who mostly enjoyed the course topics and the international context, and experienced a sincere and enthusiastic response from BSH.

    We are now looking forward to welcome Croatian, Slovenian and Austrian ELPID students for the second year of the project and the second edition of the ELPID class.