Hybrid lecturers bring industry practice into the lecture hall

Hybrid lecturers from industry provide the link between theory and practice. The Brainport pilot will run until the end of 2022.

Hybrid lecturer Ignacio Vazquez talking with students. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

It is still something of a well-kept secret, the possibility of using hybrid lecturers from industry in education at TU/e. “These people have a wealth of experience and often bring a fresh perspective.” There can be no livelier examples of real-world practice. The pilot run by Brainport has already brought a good number of ‘industry mentors’ to TU/e, but supply is still outstripping demand. To boost take-up, pilot participants are happy to share their experience: “Thanks to hybrid lecturers the course could be taught in small groups and there was plenty of opportunity to talk about real-world electronics.”

The supply of hybrid lecturers from industry keen to roll up their sleeves at TU/e gives Nadia Hagen no cause for complaint. But in finding more departments and university lecturers keen to have industry-based lecturers working alongside them as they deliver their courses, there is room for improvement. This is because, in her experience, many people are still unfamiliar with the Brainport pilot, launched in January 2020, says Hagen, project leader at Education and Student Affairs (ESA). “It is one way we can give our students a bridge to the future. Hybrid lecturers offer a glimpse of the real world, revealing for students what further down the road they can do with the ‘dry’ theory.”

The benefit for own lecturers, she believes, lies in gaining an extra pair of hands and a mind to help develop and design the education you wish to deliver. “You can deploy hybrid lecturers in all sorts of ways: to help supervise bachelor’s Graduation Projects, as coaches, to help set up a challenge-based course. These people have a wealth of experience and often bring a fresh perspective.” Hybrid lecturers are not required to have a teaching qualification. “They are not responsible for a course, in the main they provide support. As a lecturer, you may find that having them on board frees you up.”

Assistant Professor Peter Ruijten-Dodoiu, coordinator of ISBEP, the bachelor’s Graduation Projects within innovation Space, seconds that. For the past three semesters he has placed Ignacio Vazquez of TMC in the role of hybrid lecturer on this course. “It saves me a huge amount of time, which I can now spend on my coordinating role.” But there are more benefits: “Drawing on my own expertise, my input for the students is relatively abstract while Ignacio can give them concrete examples from the real world.” Psychology & Technology student Delano Gaasbeek values the fresh perspective Vazquez brings. “These are things you don’t normally get. He gives a clearer perspective of how things are done in industry. How people join forces to work from a real problem towards a solution.”

Hagen has noticed that some program directors were initially worried they would get people who no longer found their own work challenging. “On the contrary, you get people who are highly motivated, who enjoy sharing their knowledge and who have chosen to give something back to society in this way.”

Hybrid lecturers ar highly motivated and are keen to share their knowledge

ESA project leader Nadia Hagen

THE EARLY ADOPTERS

The university lecturers who are already using hybrid lecturers are the early adopters. Professor Kevin Williams of Electrical Engineering is one of them. For the bachelor’s course Circuits he brought in twelve hybrid lecturers this year, drawn from ASML, Philips Healthcare and TMC. “When a course is as big as this one (between 150 and 180 students, ed.) it’s important to build a good connection with the students. You can deliver a lecture to a large audience to share knowledge and insights, but that is so impersonal. It’s only in small groups that you can really have good contact with each other. Added to which, the methods you teach students during lectures can sometimes seem remote from what happens in the real world. How would you apply that?” comes up. This is exactly where the hybrid lecturers, or industry mentors as Williams calls them, can play a valuable role.

Seeking just the right role within the course for the mentors was done in conjunction with them. “We didn’t want them helping with homework, we have good student assistants for that. No, their job was to make sure that our students’ imagination was triggered, that they learned to see the theory in the context of real-world situations. The small groups make plenty of interaction possible and create the time and opportunity to talk about real-world electronics.”

Ellaheh Barzegar (ASML) worked as a hybrid lecturer at Electrical Engineering. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Ellaheh Barzegar, design engineer at ASML, was one of the hybrid lecturers on the Circuits course. For four hours a week she supervised two groups of students. “The Circuits course really is fundamental electrical engineering,” says Barzegar. “My role was to enter into a dialogue with students and show them how we apply things at ASML. I thoroughly enjoy meeting the younger generation in this way.”

Barzegar herself took the post-master’s in Mathematics for Industry and did her doctoral research at TU/e. “It’s my way of giving something back to the university. When I was studying in Iran, I felt a strong need to know why I had to learn something. What I would be able to do with it in the future. As a hybrid lecturer, this is exactly where I can play a role.”

Unfortunately COVID put in an appearance, and like everyone else hybrid lecturers had to comply with the requirement to give their lessons online. It was a daunting task for lecturers, let alone for hybrid lecturers. “The default adopted by students during online lessons is camera out and microphone on mute. It is so difficult to get any interaction going with a blank wall of names,” knows Susan Hommerson. She is a policy officer in medical/device research at General Affairs and coordinator of the third-year course Quality of Life at the Biomedical Engineering department. This is a challenge-based course in which students work in groups to come up with a solution to improve the quality of life in hospitals. It includes guest lectures by professor and cardiologist Lukas Dekker and clinical physicist Carola van Pul. These are followed by the ideation phase in which students work towards a prototype.

STIMULATING THE CREATIVE PROCESS

“Online brainstorming and working in this way to come up with a good idea is not something that all students do with equal ease,” says Hommerson. “This prompted me to seek a way of encouraging the creative process. I was keen to offer tools, starting points for working together within a group on a problem.” Via innovation Space she heard that hybrid lecturer Ignacio Vazquez was giving workshops on ideation. And for this course too he was keen to host a workshop. He put the focus on bridging the communication gap between the medical world and engineers. “They don’t share a common language because they come from different disciplines,” says Vazquez (for his story see the panel below). “I offered them tools to visualize the material they are working on, putting their discipline aside for a moment, and this promotes better communication.”

Hommerson is enthusiastic about Vazquez’s input: “His workshop was highly customized, he offered plenty of tips and tricks. It gave students a glimpse of real-world practice. It taught them that their reasoning processes need to stem not only from their own knowledge, but also from the environment in which they will soon be employed. You need to be designing for the end-user, whether that’s a patient or a doctor. It is this mindset that I hope to instill in students. It’s not just a matter of mastering all the material covered by the exam, you also have to reflect on your role in society whether as a university or an engineer.”

Source: Eindhoven University of Technology

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