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Gaining skills and experience through collaboration with industry

Recent Provost’s Teaching Award winner Dr Ilan Adler (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering) explains the value of students collaborating with industry.

10 July 2015

He shares how they have gained experience and skills through real and lasting contributions to major international organisations.

"Since I started working for UCL, I have strived to engage my students in practical, hands-on learning situations which have greatly enhanced their educational experience at UCL and allowed them to have a true positive impact on the community, whether local or international, depending on the assignment. I have achieved this in a number of ways: through field trips, new technology development and setting up collaborations between students and NGOs and social enterprises.

I have also implemented a biogas project at Surrey Docks Farm in East London, over the past year and a half, where a wide range of students, from both Undergraduate and MSc programmes have been in charge of installing and monitoring a Biodigester to treat organic waste and produce renewable energy. Under my supervision, students were involved in the entire process, from the design and first contacts with the client, to building, installing, digging the trench, making all the engineering calculations and plans required, and ultimately commissioning the system, which is still working and has even kept some alumni involved after graduation.

In addition to this I am involved in the creation of a new MSc in our Department (CEGE), named Engineering for International Development where I am currently setting up a brand new module, ‘Appropriate Technologies in Practice’. In accordance with my belief that engineering education should be as practical, engaging and ‘hands-on’ as possible, I have set up a collaboration with the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), where students will travel to Wales for a weeks' practical training in renewable energies with leading experts from industry and a great setting, where most of the technologies being studied will be implemented and visible."

What do you enjoy most about teaching UCL students? How have students responded to your teaching methods?

Feedback from students has been really positive. They are keen to put their academic learning in to practice and to develop practical skills. Many of them have commented on the real, usable experience they have gained and how satisfying it has been to contribute tangibly to projects and organisations. They are aware they are benefitting from practical experience and building professional skills in the process.

I also attended a recent UCL Arena session which offered different techniques for engaging students in the classroom. I’m now planning on trying different approaches to team building and group work, which is such a crucial part of our courses, allowing more independence to students in creating working arrangements, to see what feedback is like and how successfully it impacts teaching and learning.

Do you have any advice for UCL colleagues who are unsure about trying a different approach to teaching? What support (colleagues, faculty, departmental, central, external) did you utilise?

Bringing students and organisations together to work on projects is valuable for everyone. My professional background has allowed me to bring together contacts and networks for potential collaborative opportunities with my students and UCL, while also building new links with industry.

Both formal and informal opportunities are always available and a good way to build a network: conferences, open days, workshops and UCL Arena events have all proved a good way of meeting people.

What does this recognition mean to you? How might it affect your approach to teaching in the future?

It means recognition beyond my department and a good encouragement to continue offering students opportunities to learn with a practical mindset, making positive contributions to society whilst studying at UCL.

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