Matchmaking revolutionizes teaching

Tuesday 03 Nov 15
by Jesper Spangsmark


John Heebøll
DTU Management Engineering
+45 45 25 46 77
A new era commenced in September this year, when a class of MSc students formed groups on the basis of choices made by the computer program CATME.

The MSc course ‘Knowledge-based Entrepreneurship’ has eliminated the sweaty-palms-awkward-introduction process that normally distinguishes the formation of groups at DTU and all other Danish universities. It has also done away with advance agreements, groups made up of neighbours from student halls and ‘repeater groups’ whose members mainly stay together for the fun of it.

The dating-like conditions have instead been replaced by formulae, algorithms, and software. Group formation is now carried out by the computer program CATME, which matches students on the basis of their academic competency and wishes regarding collaboration.

Photo: Mikal Schlosser

The idea of taking an entirely new approach to the group formation process stems from John Heebøll, Head of Centre at DTU Management Engineering. His goal with the project is to boost learning and improve results by applying some of the same tools as are used in the recruitment of key personnel for high performing teams and executive groups in the business community.

Once upon a time, John Heebøll helped introduce the entrepreneurial mindset as a part of the syllabus at DTU, and he is now keen to implement a radical change in one of the main pillars of teaching at the University: group work. It is actually not only the formation of groups he wants to manage more efficiently by using computers:

“The working relationship within the groups also needs to be assessed, supported and developed on the basis of feedback about the system from the students. This will change the way we supervise, and I have great expectations regarding the effect this will have on what the students take away from the course.”

Just needed the software
Up until a few years ago, the software to handle the assignment was still not available. The solution then appeared in the form of the computer program CATME, which has been implemented with great success at a number of elite universities—particularly in the United States.

This paved the way for a new and different approach to forming groups at DTU as well, and John Heebøll has no doubts that the new system will come to help and challenge the students:

“With support from CATME, we will not be forming those groups that get off to the easiest start, enjoy the smoothest working relationship, or are made up of people with most in common. Instead, the groups we form will be made up of people who challenge—and have most to learn from—one another across national, cultural and personal differences, groups that perform best when it comes to submitting their final results.”

Photo: Mikal Schlosser 

Positive students
Several hundred students have experienced the group formation process involving CATME, and in the same way as when anything is tried for the first time, a high level of enthusiasm was tempered by a degree of confusion. Generally speaking, however, the students on the Knowledge Based Entrepreneurship course welcomed the initiative and were quick to spot the potential in the new group formation process.

“It’s a great idea. It makes it possible to set up groups of people who are better suited to working together than you would immediately imagine,” says Søren Dyrby, one of the students on the course. Lærke Kjeldsen shares this opinion:

“My first impression of the system is that it’s a good one, and I’m sure it will produce better groups.”

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