Last year, the Teaching and Learning Development Fund was created at TalTech with a size of 1.2 million euros per year. Half of this was intended for open application rounds, so that academic staff can have the opportunity to realize their ideas. Today, almost 60 projects have been initiated.
Hanna Haavapuu | Photos: TalTech
The Estonian society needs specialists with engineering education, which is why every student at TalTech has value. One of the key development goals of the university is to ensure that our graduates are able to solve complex real-life problems with a science-based mindset, practical engineering proficiency, good self-management and collaboration skills, and an entrepreneurial spirit. The need to address these challenges is also reflected in the contract under public law concluded with the Republic of Estonia and the recommendations of the international commission during the institutional accreditation.
In order to pursue these goals, the university created the Teaching and Learning Development Fund in 2022, with an annual volume of 1.2 million euros. The fund has supported the creation of a motivating learning environment, including building capacity for online and hybrid learning, enhancing the quality of problem- and project-based learning, modernising teaching infrastructure, promoting international cooperation in the European Universities initiative, popularising engineering education in cooperation with upper secondary schools, enhancing the teaching skills of lecturers, and involving teaching assistants in teaching.
Around half of the fund is made up of funding for open calls, which have given academic staff an opportunity to turn their ideas into reality. To date, almost 60 projects have been launched, focusing on the development of curricula, upgrading teaching laboratories and equipment, prevention of student drop-outs, implementation of a learning-centred teaching approach, dissemination of green transition and circular economy principles, as well as further training for departmental staff. In cooperation with businesses, learning has been made more interesting and real-life challenges have been brought into everyday teaching. Together with general education schools, upper secondary school pupils are offered electives that give a clearer picture of what university is like.
According to the Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs, Professor Hendrik Voll, the academic domain of the university is full of great ideas and the Teaching and Learning Development Fund gives every academic employee the opportunity to put them into practice. ‘All of the supported initiatives are characterised by innovative ideas and collaboration within the university and with partners. University studies should be the best years of someone’s life and it is good to see that our academic community is determined to make this happen,’ said Hendrik Voll.
Examples of funded projects
Interdisciplinary study on teaching and learning STEM subjects
Project leaders: Professor Tiia Rüütmann, Ija Stõun, Kärt Kase
A research project of the Centre for Teaching Excellence of the Schools of Engineering and Science focused on improving the quality of learning and teaching in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects and on paying more attention to academic culture and ethics at the university. Classroom observations and interviews with both students and lecturers were conducted, the importance of feedback in the learning process was discussed, and the experience of world-class technological universities in supporting teaching and reducing the number of drop-outs was analysed.
The research project resulted in the following: a meta-analysis of the scientific literature and a synthesis of didactical approaches for effective teaching and feedback of STEM subjects and their impact on learning; an analysis of the differences in teaching STEM subjects; an overview of the didactical competencies of the faculty members of the Schools of Engineering and Science; research-based recommendations for improving teaching and learning of STEM subjects; methodological material for classroom observations and a tool for analysing teaching and learning from a 360° perspective; and input for the development of good practice in teaching and learning at the university.
The survey demonstrated that the acquisition of applied knowledge to solve real-life problems through problem- and project-based learning, support for critical thinking, and meaningful learning are and will remain priorities in teaching and learning engineering subjects. The results of the project offer both evidence-based measures to reduce student drop-outs and to improve the quality of learning and teaching of STEM subjects – it is important to develop the feedback system further and to pay more attention to academic culture and ethics at the university. The results of the study were presented at the conference ‘Learning and Teaching from a 360° perspective’ on 30 May.
Introducing reuse into project-based teaching of production equipment
Project leader: Professor Toivo Tähemaa
The aim of the teaching and learning development project ‘Inclusion of the circular economy principles in the integration of production equipment and mechatronic equipment projects’ of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering of the School of Engineering was to introduce practical examples of reuse into project-based teaching, and through this, guide students to consider the possibilities of reuse and to create prototypes in a real cost-effective way during their studies.
We are constantly surrounded by resources which are no longer used, but which could be of great use to a third party. Often, the problem is storing the items and having access to information about the nature and location of such objects. Therefore, the project pushed students to think in terms of circular economy. During the teaching and learning process, a surprising number of ideas for realisation were proposed. For example, the students learned how to use leftover filament in a 3D printer (it is not important for a prototype that the whole product is in the same colour), found and used all the stocks of aluminium profiles and grooved nuts of the department, and found a way to create a new mobility solution for a foosball table that had already been declared untransportable. In addition, a completely new vending machine was created in cooperation with AS ABB, which also included recycled items. A student project was also presented at the Modern Materials and Manufacturing (MMM2023) international conference.
According to Toivo Tähemaa, the associate professor who led the project, the students were very enthusiastic about the subject and felt that this way of thinking was very viable and sustainable. ‘Thanks to the funding we have received, we have a large number of motivated graduates and upper secondary school pupils. The foosball table completed during the project is now used in the Järveküla school lobby, and the lessons learned (for example, creating an IT solution was too complicated) showed that this work must be continued,’ said Tähemaa.
The team of Martin Tõniste, a graduate student involved in the project, simulated industrial equipment design scenarios and promoted giving new life to old objects, demonstrating the power and potential of circular economy. According to him, these projects also gave impetus to other student initiatives, such as theses and product developments and improvements. ‘Through these projects, we learned about the importance of sustainability in design, the practical aspect of reusability, and the powerful impact these practices can have. We believe that these lessons are in line with the objectives of the development plan of the university, marking an important step forward. We hope to continue contributing to such sustainable and innovative initiatives, turning dreams into reality and making a positive impact on our environment,’ said Tõniste.
Cross-curricular integration of problem-based learning in business education
Project leaders: Merle Ojasoo and Marianne Kallaste
A collaborative teaching and learning project of the Department of Business Administration of the School of Business and Governance links the studies of students in three subjects (‘Entrepreneurship and Business Planning’; ‘Ethics, Responsibility and Sustainability’; ‘Social Entrepreneurship’). The objective is to help students get the maximum benefit from the content of the different electives and to integrate an ethical and responsible dimension and social impact into the business models that the students of the School of Business and Governance are planning to develop.
The integration model includes three key principles. First, mutual communication and collaboration, where business ideas are exchanged between students from two different courses through problem discussions on how to incorporate a more sustainable mindset into business ideas or how to address social challenges through the expectation of a balanced profit margin. Second, the creation of a shared study material across subjects. While the ‘Entrepreneurship and Business Planning’ course is compulsory for all students, the electives of ‘Responsibility and Sustainability’ and ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ will be taken by students from very different fields. The subjects are different but the topics are at times similar or complementary; subject integration contributes to greater coherence between subjects and to a positive learning experience. Thus, common podcasts, video tutorials, and case studies in cooperation with companies have been created as components of the model. The third principle involves the inclusion of external stakeholders. During the autumn semester, students and lecturers of the subjects included in the model will have an opportunity to present their business ideas at the biggest impact festival in the Baltic States, the Impact Day. In 2022, faculty members held a seminar on sustainable entrepreneurship education at TalTech and a competition of sustainable business ideas on the inspiration stage of Impact Day, where three most sustainable business ideas were selected. Read more about the Impact Day at impactday.eu/blog.