Imperial College London

Engineering student-staff collaborations enhance skills and student experience


Computer generated images of the redesigned Huxley Building corridor

Designs for the Huxley Building by StudentShapers in the Departments of Computing and Maths

Over the summer, students and staff the Faculty of Engineering have been collaborating to enhance learning and teaching at Imperial.

The StudentShapers scheme provides a framework for staff and students to collaborate on high-impact projects while providing financial support to students to enable their participation. Projects are designed to provide equal benefit to staff and students, and each group’s expertise is equally valued.

Embedding Python in the Earth Science and Engineering curriculum

Professor Matthew Piggott put out a call for students to join a project designed to embed the programming language Python more broadly across the Earth Science and Engineering curriculum.

After recognising that without regular practice of the language taught in their first year, students’ skills became rusty, Matthew set up a StudentShapers project where students developed Python content to align with all of the modules in the curriculum; the result being a resource that helps students maintain their coding fluency. For example, a module that at face-value has no coding component might require data processing or plotting, which can be achieved via Python.

Commenting on the project, Matthew said ‘the primary aim [of the project] was fluency in Python, but we realised in doing this that it had multiple, complimentary benefits.’ For example, lecturers who hadn’t used Python before were inspired to learn the language, using the students’ introductory guides in the context of their own modules.

Student ownership of the resulting product is key to its success. As each year’s students revisit the online resource, they can add to and improve it, expanding the breadth of help available while developing their Python skills within the context of a large software development project. Matthew said: ‘The idea with is that this is a student-led project, where students and staff have initiated and done a lot of work this summer but this will be something where the students will hopefully continue to contribute year on year.’

Students from across the degree programme took part in the project, each contributing their specific disciplinary knowledge. One of the StudentShapers, Eliza Karlowska said: ‘it was a really good experience to work with other students and coordinate on the project, because you’re working on the same thing but different parts of it - so its important to talk to each other.’

To see the online ‘book’ and a full list of contributors, visit the project github page.

Redesigning a transitional space in the Huxley Building

While Imperial’s campuses were closed to students for most of the summer, that didn’t stop a project to redesign the foyer area in Level 3 of the Huxley building from going ahead online.

The area is a ‘transitional space’, where Maths and Computing students gather and travel through separate to formal learning spaces such as labs and lecture theatres – an important location for informal learning and community building.

Recognising that the space could be improved, Dr Robert Chatley, Department of Computing partnered with two students, Maria Borc (Maths) and Chloe Lau (Computing), to redesign the space. The students also worked alongside Inkeri Hibbins, Undergraduate Liaison Officer (Maths) and Craig Walker, Strategic Lead for Education Infrastructure Development (Estates Division), to conduct a survey of students and targeted staff members, followed by a Piazza board to understand the use and perception of the space. PhD student Luke McCrone (Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship) also contributed to the survey design.

Feedback showed that the space lacked warmth, and a sense of belonging known as ‘discipline identity’. The students explained how this data fed into the final 3D design: ‘we thought about using the colour blue, which not only the college but also both departments use. There also are some boards that could be used by departmental societies to share pictures of students as well as wellbeing teams to promote positive messages and spread awareness about important issues.’ The redesign also included comfort and aesthetic improvements such as tables at varying heights and the introduction of plant walls.

Robert said: ‘We hope that on a holistic level, this will be a better space for everyone, and will be better able to support what the students need. By doing the project in this way, it means the students will feel more engaged with it, as something that they’ve had some input into designing…I hope that this sets a precedent for future projects when buildings are redesigned.’

Wellbeing, connection and community in exceptional times

Amy Picton, Student Wellbeing Advisor for Department of Aeronautics and Dyson School of Design Engineering, recognised an issue for students was feeling overwhelmed about the sudden change to online learning and the level of information available to them related to academic and pastoral support. The abrupt lack of face-face interaction called for a need for online community building. She set up a StudentShapers project and recruited Aeronautics undergraduate students Claudia Jimenez Cuesta, Hayley Wong, Katrina Wong and Patricia Ribes Vivó.

The StudentShapers sent out a survey to students in the department asking what they were currently struggling with, discovering that remote learning was proving difficult due to distractions and low motivation.

The project focussed on three strands: resources for students struggling with remote learning and work-life balance, events for students to get to know each other and workshops on topics such as soft skills, leadership and communication necessary to secure future job roles. Tips provided from older students helped create a culture of support in terms of remote working and motivation to younger years which will improve the student experience and sense of community.

StudentShaper Claudia Jimenez Cuesta said: ‘I applied to be a student shaper as it was the perfect opportunity to help our department in making the student experience the best it could possibly be. By the end of the four weeks, I had been working closely with staff members as well as students from different cohorts.’

The balance between staff and student input resulted in a Microsoft Teams site hosting relevant resources and links to upcoming workshops in the autumn and spring terms. The resources fall under five main themes: Mental Wellbeing, Physical Wellbeing, Social and Relationships, Effective Learning and External Helplines. Engaging students with creating resources based on real needs encouraged them to think about their own wellbeing in the process.

Still from a video - text: Spanish Tortilla on top of a hand chopping a stack of potatoes
A still from an 'Aero around the world' video submission

‘Aero around the world', an event that previously took place in person, has been modified to take place instead in an online environment. Students previously brought in dishes from their home country for all to try, however now they record themselves cooking and share the recipe for others to try and discuss.

StudentShaper Patricia Ribes Vivó said:

‘Being a StudentShaper this summer gifted me the opportunity to ensure Aeronautics students forged social connections and enjoyed their next academic year, regardless of the exceptional circumstances. Through workshops and events, we were able to build a stronger sense of community with not only students, but also staff members.’


Helen Wilkes

Helen Wilkes
Faculty of Engineering

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