I have always believed in designing learning experiences which are authentic and set in a relevant real-world context. This will ensure that student learning is deepened, continuously challenged and applied meaningfully in whatever they do. I also value the possibilities of intra and interdisciplinary approaches to learning such that a student is never restricted to a specific set of skills and knowledge or limited to a specific domain or field of study. Increasingly, industry leaders and employers are seeking adaptable, nimble and multi-skilled talents to be part of their productive and effective talent pool. Hence, I’ve always believed in an instruction that is based on enduring understandings, alternative forms of assessment, varied task designs and pedagogical approaches like project-based and inquiry-based learning.

A poster for a research study on the module Critical Thinking and Writing with a focus on Engineering Leadership and Sustainable Engineering (by Nadya Patel)

In a module for engineering students that I co-coordinated and taught in the past, the teaching team collaborated with the Faculty of Engineering and Institute of Engineering Leadership to use case studies involving engineer-leaders in Singapore: their setbacks, success stories and strategies in overcoming challenges, which are contextualized in the real world, set amidst the challenges of a highly VUCA world. Industry leaders of the engineering field are engaged to understand how communication and leadership skills can be applied in the work of an engineer today. Students learn how engineer leaders can orientate themselves within a technical mastery, collaborative optimization or organisational innovation domains, while developing critical thinking and writing skills. The module adopts an Engineering Leadership framework (Rottmann et al, 2016) to help students critically analyse the case studies.

The module is also designed with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in mind. Students engage in collaborative projects to identify a real world problem, analyse its causes, evaluate its current measures and propose evidence-based solutions. If I would tweak the assessment with a stronger community and collaborative focus, students would be tasked to deliver their pitch, and engage in a defence to collaboratively select the most appropriate solution for an identified problem under a specific SDG. The Problem-Solution position paper is designed to assess students’ ability to analyse their chosen topic/issue based on the theme “Sustainable Development Goals: transforming our world for the future”; to present a good sustained argument exploring the importance of the problem they have identified (in relation to a country or a city they have chosen) and the causes and context of the problem; to use evidence from research; and to suggest 1-2 feasible solutions bearing in mind the implications and consequences should these solutions be implemented. They will work in a group of 4-5 students to produce an oral presentation or recorded presentation (5-8 mins). Groups that are tackling the same SDG will participate in an oral defence-cum-debate for the entire group to vote for the best paper/solution.

It is heartening to note that many students were able to internalise the concepts of engineering leadership (as discussed in the Rottmann et al’s framework) while they collaboratively work on their Sustainable Engineering concept papers. When they reflected in a final critical reflection essay, many were able to refer to the orientations of engineering leadership (Technical Mastery, Collaborative Optimisation, Organisational Innovation) when recounting their collaborative experiences working on the concept paper.

In one essay, a student reflected that he “had leveraged on one another’s strengths and optimized collaboration in the process” of completing the collaborative work on their concept paper.

The student shared that his team was neither organized nor productive at the start of their collaboration. So it was helpful that student A, being task-oriented, “took on the leadership role to give directions to the team”. Student A “knew each of their strengths and skillfully matched their strengths to the appropriate tasks and thus he effectively increased the team’s organization as well as productivity” [1]. Furthermore, he also facilitated interdependence amongst the members and encouraged deeper learning as the different sections of the paper were required to link seamlessly together which was only possible through effective communication between group members [1]. Hence, according to this student, it was through Student A skillful matching, he helped to achieve optimal collaboration among everyone in the team.

In addition, the student shared that their progress had come to a halt as they were unable to definitively identify any suitable evaluation criteria for their proposed solutions. During this “dire time, Student B displayed collaborative optimization through the balancing of collaborative quality and efficiency” [1]. Student B “noticed that the team was very drained from continuously trying to ideate suitable evaluation criteria and realized that further discussion would no longer be productive”. He then took the initiative to end the discussion and contacted me (their tutor) for a consultation immediately to get them out of the predicament they were in. Thus, according to the student, it was also through the balancing of collaborative quality and efficiency, that Student B has helped to achieved optimal collaboration among everyone in the team.

I thought that this topic has shared some new insights on how collaboration looks like in my own professional networks of colleagues at the university as well as how curriculum design and adoption of conceptual and pedagogical frameworks can be crucial to enhancing collaboration among my students.


[1] C. Rottmann, R. Sacks, and D. Reeve. 2016. Engineering leadership: Grounding leadership theory in engineers’ professional identities. Leadership, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 351–373.

Learning in communities: a reflection on how student collaboration looks like in a critical thinking and communication course