Technical University of Denmark: Project Lab receives DTU award for teaching development

The ability to work project-oriented is crucial for the engineers of the future. This is the view of the educators behind the project lab course portfolio, who want to build bridges to working life in their teaching.

Although Christian Thuesen and the team behind the Project Lab course portfolio have just won DTU’s Teaching Development Award 2020, he himself believes that their Project Management subject is close to impossible to teach.

“It’s not competences you can learn at a lecture”, he says.

But perhaps this is precisely why their course on project management has grown so explosively in recent years—both in scope and in terms of popularity and satisfaction.

From 2012, when Christian Thuesen took over responsibility for a single course with approximately 180 students enrolled per year to now where he—together with three colleagues—teaches several project management courses at DTU, Copenhagen Business School (CBS), and Aalborg University (AAU). He has also developed a certification scheme and an online encyclopedia and is in contact with more than 1,000 students a year, who get better grades and evaluate the course more positively than previously.

The team of educators, who besides Christian Thuesen and Josef Oehman from DTU Management, include the former DTU colleagues Johanna Geraldi (CBS) and Verena Stingl (AAU), thus help pass on project management competences that they themselves believe any engineer will need for working in a project-oriented society.

Safe space to get to know yourself
According to Christian Thuesen, the reason why the teaching of project management has taken so many new forms that he refers to it as ‘an ecosystem’ rather than one course, is that it is difficult to learn through classic blackboard teaching. There is no clear answer as to what good project management is.

“The student must take his or her own personality and experience as a point of departure in order to learn how best to participate in a project. So self-development and reflection on own practice is paramount,” he says.

Project work, which the students take turns heading, therefore takes up a big part of the Project Management basic course around which the rest of the teaching universe is built.

The assignments are designed to mimic as much as possible the work situations that the students will later encounter in the industry. For example, by informing the group’s project manager about the task for the day, which he or she will then be responsible for getting done.

“It makes the course less daunting because the students are allowed to make the typical beginner mistakes in a safe space. And they see that different personalities can lead in very different ways, but be equally successful,” says Christian Thuesen.

Access point to business and a top ranking on Google
In addition to mimicking the workflows in practice, Project Lab also builds a bridge to the business community. Among other things, by giving the students the opportunity to be certified by Danish Standard, for which Christian Thuesen and his colleagues have helped to design and write the curriculum.

And in the course Advanced Project, Program & Portfolio Management subject, which builds on Project Lab’s basic course, the students’ work is so relevant to the real world that even Google has discovered it.

“The students are allowed to make the typical beginner mistakes in a safe space. And they see that different personalities can lead in very different ways, but be equally successful.”
Christian Thuesen, Associate Professor at DTU Management
Here, students must write short, practice-oriented posts for the online encyclopedia ConceptBox, which has been created for the course. The reference work was developed as a kind of interactive curriculum that could be included in Project Lab’s other courses. But today, it is so high in Google’s ranking that some posts have 40-50,000 views.

“The students think it’s pretty crazy that they have spent a month on something that’s being read by so many. And to be honest, it wasn’t something we had seen coming at all,” he says.

But he believes that this is actually a good example of how the course has come about: by testing different ideas, evaluating systematically, quickly abandoning non-starter projects and having an eye for fine-tuning and developing the successes.

“In order to be able to experiment this much, we have relied on DTU’s funds for course development to, for example, create video lectures and new exercises. We have been very pleased with this opportunity,” says Christian Thuesen.

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