A world of futures: now online the new issue SOMe Magazine

 

In a rapidly changing world, the opportunity to look ahead and scan the horizon to investigate what possible futures are ahead is paramount to anticipate the challenges our society will face, to be aware, possibly prepared, and eventually move towards the most desirable ones.

This is the cover story of the new issue #10 of SOMe, with a presentation by Cristiana Bolchini and Silvia Gadola on the activities of the Center for Technology Foresight of Politecnico di Milano.

Sergio Terzi, Arianna Seghezzi and Lucio Lamberti then present possible future scenarios in manufacturing, logistics and in the metaverse.

In the “Stories” we present research projects in the legal, energy and social fields with a new funding from EURATOM for a project that analyzes citizens’ opinions and perceptions of risk related to the use of current and future nuclear technologies.

To read SOMe #10 click here.

If you wish to receive it by email, please register here.

Previous issues:

  • #9 “Talents and the challenges for education”
  • #8 “The challenge of pursuing impact in research”
  • #7 “From data science to data culture: the emergence of analytics-powered managers”
  • #6 “Innovation with a human touch”
  • #5 “Inclusion: shaping a better society for all”
  • #4 “Multidisciplinarity: a new discipline”
  • #3 “New connections in the post-covid era”
  • #2 “Being entrepreneurial in a high-tech world”
  • Special Issue Covid-19 – “Global transformation, ubiquitous responses”
  • # 1 “Sustainability – Beyond good deeds, a good deal?”

 

 

ECOSENS: what role is there for nuclear power in the decarbonisation process?

The Politecnico di Milano with the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering, is a partner of the project funded by HORIZON-EURATOM

 

The Politecnico di Milano is a partner in the ECOSENS (Economic and Social Considerations for the Future of Nuclear Energy in Society) project funded under the research and training programme of the European Community HORIZON-EURATOM.

The project aims to analyse citizens’ opinions and perceptions of risk, the benefits and potential related to the use of nuclear technologies (current and future) in relation to the main social challenges: climate crisis, sustainable energy policies and energy security.

In order to identify the possible role of nuclear energy within the decarbonisation objectives set for 2050, the sustainability of current technologies and the integration of new generation reactors (III + and IV) will be assessed with reference to the future energy market and social developments taking place.

The Department of Management Engineering will be supported by that of Energy in the development of an economic model based on the “system of provision approach” to create and calculate indicators relevant to the evaluation of nuclear systems, including the “social discount rate” (reflecting uncertainties about the socio-environmental costs and benefits of the project) and the impact on sustainability.

The research work will lead to the drafting of guidelines for the evaluation of new nuclear infrastructures with a view to improving their sustainability.

The research group of the Politecnico is coordinated by Professor Giorgio Locatelli of the Department of Management Engineering.

Green Deal @polimi

 

Innovation in last-mile delivery for B2C e-commerce

To face the logistics challenges opened by the advent of e-commerce, players operating online should leverage on innovation. Innovation is the enabler for efficient and effective solutions in a fast-changing and challenging sector, which is expected to become increasingly significant in the everyday life of all of us.

 

Arianna Seghezzi, Assistant Professor in Management of Logistics and Production Systems

 

Business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce is gaining increasing importance in many countries – in both mature and emerging markets – and online initiatives are proliferating across different industries. Globally, B2C e-commerce is a rapid pace growing phenomenon, and the online market of products in 2021 has been worth more than € 800B worldwide (B2C e-Commerce observatory, Politecnico di Milano). If compared to the offline market, B2C e-commerce opens new logistics challenges for companies, and the intangibility of online transactions must not lead to underestimate them. In particular, the most critical logistic process is the last-mile delivery, i.e., the “last stretch” of the order fulfilment, aimed at delivering the products ordered online to the final consumer.

Traditionally, last-mile deliveries are conducted by means of diesel vans performing delivery tours with a high number of customers to be reached, which entails criticalities according to different dimensions. Considering effectiveness, last-mile delivery is the interface between the merchant and the customers, who directly perceive the associated performances. Considering efficiency, it is the most expensive part of the delivery process, mainly due to the small dimension of orders to be delivered to multiple – potentially dispersed – points of destination. Finally, considering environmental sustainability, a high number of diesel vans may generate CO2 emissions and contribute to traffic congestion.

These being the premises, the academic, managerial, and policy-making communities are striving to find alternative solutions to address such challenges. In this context, innovation emerges as a promising option: the answer is developing last-mile delivery solutions that introduce novel elements, to help companies overcoming the limits of traditional deliveries (such as the inability to saturate the transport mean or the high probability of failed deliveries). These solutions may imply the use of transport means different from traditional vans, innovative algorithms optimizing the scheduling of the deliveries, or even the implementation of new logics and the involvement of new players.

  • Crowdsourcing logistics is intended as the outsourcing of last-mile delivery activities to a network of “common” people (i.e., the crowd), which give their availability to carry a parcel from a point of origin to a point of destination. They often offer this service because they have to move on a similar route for personal or working reasons.
  • Parcel lockers are boxes managed by a retailer or a logistics service provider used by different customers, usually grouped into structures located in public places (e.g., supermarkets, post offices). The allocation of one specific locker to a specific customer is not fixed, but it dynamically varies according to the issued orders and to the availability. The customers can retrieve their parcel using a one-time password, barcode or QR code.
  • In-trunk deliveries allow parcels to be delivered directly in the trunk of the customer’s car. Couriers unlock the trunk using a one-time-use digital key associated to the specific order. The real-time information about the car location is provided by a GPS system installed inside the vehicle.
  • Drones consist of unmanned aerial vehicles in which parcels are loaded, which can travel from a point of origin to a point of destination relying on the on-board GPS. Once the destination is reached, the container is dropped off. Drones then have to come back to the warehouse or to a truck that, in the meanwhile, has moved to a new destination. Here the driver changes the battery and loads the new container.
  • Robots are small-dimension self-driving road vehicles that, moving on determined and controlled paths, reach the customers, who unload the vehicle retrieving their parcels.

The solutions presented above are just a selection of multiple available options, and are very different from each other. Their characteristics and peculiarities make some alternatives more suitable for specific contexts, depending on many contextual factors (e.g., the road and viability conditions, the dimension and obsolescence of the delivered products, as well as the urgency and the required delivery speed). Nonetheless, all of them have one element in common: innovation.

E-commerce logistics is completely different from traditional logistics, and traditional solutions are not the right answer to solve novel and disruptive problems. As a result, in order to pursue sustainability (intended in its threefold configuration, i.e., economic, environmental and social) goals, e-commerce players should leverage on innovation, that is the enabler for efficient and effective solutions in a fast-changing and challenging sector, which is expected to become increasingly significant in the everyday life of all of us.

A world of futures to nurture the future

Center for Technology Foresight, Politecnico di Milano

Cristiana Bolchini, Professor in Computer Engineering and Chair of the Scientific Board of the Technology Foresight Center, Politecnico di Milano
Silvia Gadola, Research Fellow, School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

 

In a rapidly changing world, the opportunity to look ahead and scan the horizon to investigate what possible futures are ahead is paramount to anticipate the challenges our society will face, to be aware, possibly prepared, and eventually move towards the most desirable ones. To this end, in 2020 Politecnico di Milano established its Technology Foresight Center with the aim to explore and identify future technology perspectives and provide useful indications for strategic planning for both public and private institutions. The goal is to identify (and possibly anticipate) the drivers of change, understand and explore the potential of technologies with respect to their impact on society and the environment, and adopt a critical and forward-thinking approach to the technological progress and innovation.

The Technology Foresight Center exploits the strong competencies of its faculty and researchers in the Design, Architecture, and Engineering fields, as well as the rich network of national and international experts from the academy, the industry, and the public sector. Such heterogeneity provides the opportunity to comprehend the implications of the complex future ecosystems, highlighting the opportunities to seize and the risks to avoid, to be prepared for the challenges of the future. The reference horizon is a long-term one – usually 15 years from now, going beyond the typical forward-looking window of everyday research to try to explore with a broader perspective what possible futures are ahead, which are the preferable ones and how to move toward them. While it is true that the future cannot be predicted, it is mandatory to foster a future-thinking approach in researchers and society as a whole; spreading a mindset of understanding how today’s innovations, economic and political choices, climate and societal changes are shaping the world ahead is a pillar for the Foresight Center.

The first activity conducted by the Technology Foresight Center involved the entire Politecnico’s research community and aimed at understanding the expected impact in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of a selected set of 50 technologies and innovations identified as disruptive by previous prominent foresight studies. The technologies covered a wide range of areas of adoption to ensure an exhaustive mapping of future impacts. The outcome highlighted the technologies that are expected to have the greatest impact, among which Energy Harvesting and Car-Free cities, as well as others that will possibly have diverging effects on different SDGs, such as Blockchain or Flying Cars, negatively impacting some of them.

Driving from these outcomes, in 2021 the Technology Foresight Center developed the project entitled “The future of sustainable mobility – How will we move in 2035?”. Commuting takes a great share of our daily lives, and the way we move will have a significant impact on the quality of our lives and cities. Thinking today about new transportation needs, emerging technologies, and the associated opportunities and risks is a crucial step toward creating the mobility of the future.
2035 marks a significant milestone. Following the European Committee calendar, this date is, for many, the moment when mobility as we know it will come to an end: new technological perspectives and new habits suggest a significant change of pace that is making smart mobility a turning point for the future and sustainability of our cities. Among the various findings, technologies related to mobility showed divergent tendencies requiring a more in-depth investigation. Scenario analysis and technology road mapping have made it possible to identify mobility needs in 2035 and highlighted supporting evidence for drivers of change guiding the transition towards a more sustainable future. Within this context, a set of enabling technologies and innovations emerged in association with the relevant policies and strategic actions to be put in place to address the most desirable scenarios. The following five takeaway messages are set forth to summarize the many elements that resulted from the foresight study.

  1. To work towards more sustainable mobility in 2035, the technologies and strategic actions identified by the study move in two main directions: transitioning from private cars to services and making public transportation smarter and multimodal.
  2. The speed of the transition towards more sustainable mobility strongly depends on different combinations of political and strategic choices that need to be supported by the development of technologies and actions integrated into the existing, consolidated urban reality.
  3. The prerequisites for sustainable mobility in 2035 are already visible today where travel habits are gradually changing: owning a car is no longer a status symbol, walking or cycling is considered not as a necessity but for its health benefits. The choice of the means of transport is also determined by the growing awareness of the contribution to the environmental impact.
  4. Greater attention is required to adopt means of transport and policies capable of meeting, on the one hand, the growing demand for mobility of an aging society and, on the other, the travel needs of citizens who will be living on the outskirts of urban centres due to an expected increase in migration flows.
  5. The future of mobility is strongly affected by the evolution of choices related to the energy domain and the consequent infrastructural renewal and upgrade. Its implementation could be longer than the time horizon considered. Therefore, we expect 2035 to be an intermediate transition phase, with the coexistence of several technological alternatives regarding the type of energy vector for means of transport and autonomous driving.
The future of sustainable urban mobility

Metaverse at the cross-road between the next big thing and the next big bubble

The debate is dividing the world in meta-optimists and meta-critics. Whatever answer the metaverse wants to provide to humanity, the discriminating factor for its success will be the question it answers. And the managerial challenge an historic turning point.

 

Lucio Lamberti, Professor of Marketing and Scientific Director of the Metaverse Marketing Lab, School of Management Politecnico di Milano

 

In recent months, the discussion on the metaverse as a technological, economic and social phenomenon has been experiencing a time of turmoil and debate. On one side, the advocates of a metaverse-centric vision foresee a future in which we will wear virtual reality headsets for several hours a day, living a kind of parallel experience in one or more virtual universes. On the other, those who observe the numbers that metaverse platforms such as The Sandbox and Decentraland are moving (a few hundred or thousand individual users each month, after a period of enormous growth even in the virtual land prices in the last two years) already predict the third extended reality bubble after Second Life and following the announcement of the launch of Google Glass.

As often happens in this kind of debate, both positions probably contain elements of truth and elements more open to question. It is indeed true that a metaverse economy (and its finance) exists: in 2021 JPMorgan estimated a turnover of 54 billion dollars spent on direct-to-avatar purchases (skins, experiences and similar) bought on gaming platforms such as Roblox or Fortnite by a population of nearly half a billion regular users. Last year not only did Facebook change its name to Meta, going ‘all-in’ with regards to the future of the Metaverse, but Microsoft made a bid for Activision Blizzard for around 69 billion dollars, with the declared intention of strengthening its design skills in 3D digital experiences in view of the development of this market, and a total of 80 billion dollars was invested in Web 3.0 and Metaverse companies.

Numerous businesses and industrial groups are buying companies that design video games and hiring 3D programmers to develop their ability to offer immersive experiences to their clients, but also to their future talent (indeed, one of the most successful areas of application of the 3D web has been precisely recruiting and job interviews). On the other hand, in addition to the aforementioned problems in penetrating virtual second life platforms, there is also evident turbulence typical of pure financial speculation in the world of NFTs, virtual real estate and cryptocurrencies and we are likely beginning to notice that the production of content for the immersive web is currently very challenging.   The parallels that some feared between the development of social networks and the development of the metaverse are less obvious than they might seem: social platforms clearly experienced exponential and extremely rapid development thanks to a very limited cost of content creation, which has engendered a virtuous cycle of production and presence on the part of the users.  In the case of the metaverse, the cost of content production is (at least for the moment) much higher. And the metaverse critics tend to emphasise the fact that the technology enablers behind the alleged paradigm shift are not themselves actually new (virtual reality has been an established field for at least 30 years) and that the previous attempts at mass diffusion of 3D technology failed (primarily films and TV).

In short, positions are conflicting, the hype is huge, as is the confusion, given that the  definition of the metaverse itself, its differences from web 3.0, augmented reality and mixed reality (real and virtual) are somewhat fluid.  Therefore, in order to analyse what this global interest could be, it’s worth taking a step back and sharing some thoughts on the 3D web and the immersive digital experiences as applied in our lives.

From a sociological perspective, we should examine if and to what extent there is the need for these applications. And the answer is that there are areas which could greatly benefit from them, such as education, which during the years of the pandemic saw an exponential increase in online learning, discovering the ground-breaking potential for breaking down access barriers, but also the limits in terms of experience if limited to the two-dimensionality of video conference systems.  Or tourism, which could leverage immersiveness and digital copies of cities to promote preview experiences and post-visit follow-up, extending contact with visitors.  Or in the B2B sphere, there is the opportunity to develop virtual words which, with the help of artificial intelligence, offer precise replications of real situations for the purpose of simulating actions (for example surgeries or particularly delicate maintenance operations) and assessing the results, or even seeing them replicated in real life by robots or connected devices. Or even in an organisational or R&D environment for the creation of knowledge-sharing spaces that are more user-friendly and ‘welcoming’, in order to maximise creativity, production or interactivity among participants.

But the fact that these needs exist is not reason enough for the solutions developed to actually have real application. In order for this to happen, the experiences of individuals in these situations must be able to achieve better results than the physical or two-dimensional digital alternatives, in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, pleasure, safety, etc. On this front too, the answers are still emerging; and, whilst it is true that a large body of literature suggests that immersion could foster the development of in-the-zone experiences – that is, experiences capable of maximising learning despite a perception of effortlessness – it is equally true that this potential effect strongly depends on the ways in which the experiences themselves are created and proposed.

For this reason – with regards to marketing applications – the School of Management at the Politecnico di Milano has launched an initiative called Metaverse Marketing Lab which seeks to study two elements: on one hand, the state of art on offer in this type of experience in marketing on a national and international level, in order to understand what is actually available and the results achieved;  on the other, the study of users’ reactions to these experiences including through applied neuroscience expertise in the Physiology, Emotion and Experience Lab (PhEEL), which analyses the user experience of individuals through objective measurement of biological signals.

In conclusion, although still in the very early stages of development of the topic, there are some considerations that can be advanced.

Firstly, there is much debate on the subject of platforms and possible metaverses and, while many companies draw on centralised and decentralised platforms to tap into the already existing audiences, many others develop their own metaverse.

It is at least desirable that, in the long run, the issue of interoperability among these worlds – at least in terms of technology enablers and communication protocols – take centre stage.

Secondly, while it has been stated that there are various cases of potential need, this is not sufficient to identify a profile of usefulness of the solutions already developed; this means that the success and, even before that, the very reason for the existence of a solution developed by an organisation in the metaverse depends on the type and relevance of the problem it aims to solve. Very often, technology enablers lead economic agents to develop solutions without specifying the problem they are solving, and this has always been the main cause of failure in innovation initiatives.

Finally, focusing on marketing applications, it should be noted that the persistence of a brand’s presence in a metaverse, whatever it may be, requires an even greater capacity than with web 1.0 and web 2.0 for continuous content creation. It is no coincidence that the companies that are riding the wave of the metaverse with consistency and continuity are often content creation and entertainment companies with initiatives linked to the launch of new films or series. Businesses are structurally geared to the creation of products and services, and not to the creation of content, and this is why they have delegated this activity over time to an ever-growing system of agencies and third parties.

Most likely, one of the great challenges of the metaverse for businesses will be the ability to develop in-house content creation processes, and this would be to all effects a revolution in business models, changing the system of relationships with the market, key in-house assets and resources, and the system of key partners for the development of the value proposition.

How to cultivate future skills for advanced and sustainable manufacturing?

 

IoT, 3D printing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and collaborative robots (cobots) are today present in many production sites and are quickly transforming the manufacturing industry. Despite this, working in a factory remains intrinsically a matter of people, whose skills should evolve at the same pace as the technological innovation.

 

Sergio Terzi, Professor of Industrial Technologies, School of Management Politecnico di Milano

 

The manufacturing industry – the classic factory – is a rapidly changing environment. Markets are increasingly more competitive and complex, demanding tighter turnarounds, more variety, more innovation. Many consumers have also – finally – become mindful of the new consumption styles, more sustainable and less impactful on the environment and society. Factories have to find a way to meet these demands.  Or rather, factory managers (fortunately machines alone do nothing yet) must implement changes, creating agile, efficient, modern, clean, sustainable and safe work spaces and environments.

Moreover, the continuous pressure of technological innovation, especially digital, presses at the factory doors – as it does everywhere. Computers, tablets and smartphones are, today, everyday objects, even in production departments, for which we must find a way to use them intelligently and efficiently as well as safely and reliably.

Therefore, factories must change. Or rather, factories are already changing. It is no coincidence that for more than a decade there has been much talk – not only by professionals, but also in the media and in politics – of a new industrial revolution (3,4,5…), of a manufacturing renaissance, of boosting industrial investments, etc. And the revolution is actually happening, one step at a time, one project at a time, one company at a time.

Even close to us, in productive Lombardy, many factories are undergoing transformation. A series of public incentives (the Industria 4.0, Impresa 4.0 and Transizione 4.0 National Plans and the most recent, the NRRP) as well as a large availability of technological solutions have certainly generated a big push towards modernisation.  IoT, 3D printing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, cobots (who work side by side with humans, not instead of them) are today present in many production sites close to us, into which our graduates enter profitably.  And the same thing is also happening further away, in all national and international territories which have an industrial vocation.  The factory is really changing, and fast too!

However, a factory is not only made of machines, robots and parts to be produced, but also, and above all, of people. Workers, technicians, engineers, department, line and plant managers etc. A factory is such precisely because of its “industrial” organisation, in which different skills come together effectively to produce goods and services to bring to market. The manufacturing industry – from ‘manu facere’, made by hand – is intrinsically a matter of people, of their skills and of their intelligence.  Not everyone is born with all of the necessary skills to navigate complex environments. In fact, the majority of us have to gain experience and knowledge to be able to engage with sophisticated organisations. Even ‘digital’ natives are not born with chips, but learn digital technology from their own daily experiences.  Therefore, skills are to be acquired. The modern factory requires skills not traditionally considered relevant to industrial engineers and technicians’ normal training (from negotiating skills to computer technology). These skills must therefore be provided to both new and ‘old’ generations.  The modern technical university – such as ours – is not exempt from this requirement and must inevitably become a more ‘multidisciplinary’ environment than that which we have been accustomed to in the past.

The current situation calls for ‘fresh’ technical skills which must be constantly maintained (computer science, to name one, evolves quickly). Moreover, it often calls for handling multivariate contexts, in which one should have a good ability to see connections between different aspects (e.g., technology, processes, business, needs, etc.) as well as a certain predisposition to continuous adjustment. It also requires a certain pragmatism as well as an aptitude for ‘getting your hands dirty’ (experimenting, modelling, simulating, prototyping, programming, etc.).  To provide these skills the methods and means of education themselves must change.

For some time now our School has been rising to the challenge of providing new skills for a new world. There are many examples in our courses and programmes, but here we think it is interesting to delineate the experience of our  Teaching Factory Industry 4.0, which has been present in our School since 2017. It is a physical space, in front of our Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering, where we have installed a small digital and connected factory.  There is a semi-automated assembly line, two cobots, two independent workstations, an AGV, different devices for monitoring production and a complete 3D simulator (digital twin).

The Teaching Factory was designed to bring training and application together in the same space, as well as to test new operating models (plant simulation). It is an environment populated by students and researchers and is also used for key courses on production systems in the first year of the degree programme. In 2018, we dedicated the Teaching Factory to our late mentor, prof. Marco Garetti, who was one of the founders of our department’s industrial engineering group and a passionate teacher.

Thanks to the Teaching Factory Industry 4.0 we are able to help our students with pragmatic technology learning, in an environment which closely simulates the reality of modern industrial companies.

The experience gained from the Teaching Factory Industry 4.0 was also very useful when our university implemented the larger project Made – Competence Center Industria 4.0, which is located on the Bovisa Campus in Milan, not far from our School.

As a department, we have strongly contributed to this broader project, which is proving to be a useful method for disseminating the skills required by the new industrial evolution, not just amongst our students, but also in companies.

New PhD Scholarships funded by PNRR

 

The Politecnico di Milano announced 211 PhD scholarships funded with funds provided by the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), among  which there will be 17 topic scholarships assigned for the Management Engineering PhD Programme in the following areas:

  • Digital Transformation and Industry 4.0
  • Sustainable Mobility
  • Sustainability & Circular Economy
  • Space
  • Smart Cities
  • Energy Transition & Environmental Impact

Detailed list is available at “Admissions and Scholarships“.

The calls for the assignment of scholarships are available at:

https://www.dottorato.polimi.it/en/prospective-phd-candidates/calls-and-regulations/calls-starting-november-2022/pnrr-calls

The online application deadline is 12 September 2022, at 14:00 CEST

 

Talents and the challenges for education: published the new issue of SOMe Magazine

The world of education is evolving very quickly: thanks also to the innovations offered by digital tools, we are experiencing new platforms, new dynamics between trainers and students, a whole new experience in classrooms, both online and physical.

We investigate what we can expect for the future of education in the new issue of SOMe: from the evolution of teaching in undergraduate courses but also in open programs, to its effectiveness, to the need for new skills for trainers, the challenges are presented by Marika Arena, Antonella Moretto, Tommaso Buganza, Mara Soncin and Tommaso Agasisti.

In “Stories” we tell about two research projects aimed respectively at improving the living conditions of people with visual impairments and at monitoring the well-being of young people during sport activities. Finally we share an international networking experience between young European researchers.

To read SOMe #9 click here.

To receive it directly in your inbox, sign up here.

Here are the previous issues:

  • #8 “The challenge of pursuing impact in research”
  • #7 “From data science to data culture: the emergence of analytics-powered managers”
  • #6 “Innovation with a human touch”
  • #5 “Inclusion: shaping a better society for all”
  • #4 “Multidisciplinarity: a new discipline”
  • #3 “New connections in the post-covid era”
  • #2 “Being entrepreneurial in a high-tech world”
  • Special Issue Covid-19 – “Global transformation, ubiquitous responses”
  • # 1 “Sustainability – Beyond good deeds, a good deal?”

The students of the “Invest in Foreign Markets” Lab among the best in the international “X-Culture” competition

X Culture, the international business-themed challenge, this year saw the participation of 6,188 students from 171 universities and 53 different countries, divided into 1032 mixed teams. As in every edition, students are asked to collaborate remotely for 8 weeks in the realization of a real internationalization project for one of the four Italian companies selected by Alibaba.com that have subscribed to X-Culture.

The 44 students of the “Invest in foreign markets” Lab of the Master’s programme in Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering participated in the competition and were distributed to international teams by working remotely with colleagues from foreign universities. At the end of the competition, 12 students from the Politecnico di Milano distributed in 3 groups won the “Best Team” award, awarded both for the excellent peer-to-peer evaluations they received and for the quality of the final reports they produced, which represent real business plans to support the internationalization of the companies involved.

In addition to this, the Politecnico di Milano also distinguished itself with the “Best Instructor” award, which was awarded to prof. Stefano Elia, supported by Alessio Di Marco and Ludovico Benetel, for the commitment and professionalism with which the students were coordinated in carrying out their project, allowing them to also obtain prizes for the “Best Team”.

Awarded students:

Gabriele Capobianco
Giuseppe Carrabino
Andrea Cigognini
Federico De Cosmo
Sofia Monica Di Vincenzo
Emma Maria Antonietta Rosa
Francesco Faugno
Alessandro Gastaldo
Simone Gianotti
Martina Mauri
Beatrice Raimondi
Mercedes Maria Ugarte Herrero

For further details:

Awards, for the projects and the winning students

Best educators

Train the trainers

Digital technologies are deeply changing the dynamics of teaching and learning: a re-design of the whole educational experience is needed, requiring trainers to develop both digital and pedagogical new skills.

Tommaso Buganza, Full Professor of Leadership & Innovation, School of Management Politecnico di Milano

 

The pandemic has made us all blackbelts in Teams, Zoom, Webex, etc.
It has catapulted us into a digital world and forced us to develop digital skills quickly, with no opportunity to back out. In some cases this has worked very well (as students are telling us), while in other cases it has not.

We are still not sure if the pandemic is only a memory of the past, but at least we can be sure that many aspects of our lives will never go back to how they were, and training is certainly one of these. These digital skills required much effort on our part and we will now keep them with us.

Perhaps a moment has arrived in which we have the maturity to start asking ourselves how our skillset as educators has changed (and whether it still needs to change).

We can start with a simple consideration on the concept of digital: the equation

digital = online remote

It has shown to be false.

In fact, we must distinguish between the nature and functionalities of the many tools that we have learnt to use. On the one hand, as stated, Zoom, Teams, Webex and so on are tools that allow us to interact remotely. But the pandemic has also brought us tools for interaction which facilitate innovative activities and can also be used easily in the physical classroom.

Think of instant polling software like Socrative, Kahoot! or Poll Everywhere. We can now also extend the interaction to hundreds of students in a few seconds, obtaining an accurate idea of emotions with tag clouds or the extent to which they have understood a concept with multiple responses in real time.

But we can also do more; we can activate interactive dynamics within the classroom. For example, by asking for opinions to be written and then voted on by others in a sort of simple but quick and interesting brainstorming exercise.

Then there are other tools like MIRO, Mural or Jamboard, which make it possible to create a shared space to allow teams of students to interact in a deeper way, operating a virtual artefact in a coordinated and simultaneous manner, also keeping track of what has been done in previous lessons, if necessary, and guiding them with templates and procedural steps that would have once required paper, printing, logistical management, a loss of information, etc.

However, we must recognise that all these tools, and our ability to use them, intersects with a change in the way in which society interacts with the concept of learning. Major digital platforms such as YouTube or Instagram have revolutionised the way in which we interact with knowledge. They have made it quicker, more divided, more interactive and on-demand. Micro-learning, the parcelling of the practical part into small pieces that are easier to digest and the multi-media nature of communication (slides, speaking, film, etc.) are how many of us experience this, both as users and as educators. Above all, the dynamics of training activities have changed. We can no longer consider having long periods of lecture-based knowledge transfer and then long periods of application. The paradigm of the 20-page case study to be read and then discussed has not (yet) disappeared, but in some case it is starting to seem slow and a little dated.

In this scenario it is irrelevant whether the training takes place in person or online through a communication platform; what we need to do is change the logical and experiential flow of our lessons.

But what skills do we need to develop in order for this to happen?
To change what we do in the classroom, how should we change what we do before going into the classroom?

I believe that there are three fundamental things that we always need to learn better.

The first is conceiving (and therefore designing) a lesson as a service to be provided. We must design not only the content (which obviously is and remains the central point), but also how it will be used. Where we want to place a repetition, where we want to have a test, where we want to place a group activity to reinforce a concept. All of this requires planning, and it cannot be improvised once we are already in the classroom. Designing a group activity in 4 steps means designing a specific MIRO board, doing a brainstorming activity means preparing the interactive slide, etc. In many cases we will discover that the scarce resource will be time and we will need to choose what to do and how to do it to maximise the effectiveness of the training. The content is a necessary condition, but it is no longer enough; we need to imagine ourselves as designers of educational processes.

There is obviously a dark side to this approach, when the emphasis is placed on so-called infotainment, and the centrality of the content is overlooked. A meaningful and fulfilling educational experience is a means and not the end. However, we must accept that not paying due attention to the design of the learning process today risks drastically reducing the effectiveness of education.

The second thing that we must learn to do more, and better, is exploring the digital space. New functionalities and details are continuously added to all the tools that we named above. Each one of them enables new interactions or activities. We will never be able to use them unless we are familiar with them; we need to be curious in order to have new ideas. For example, when Miro introduced the possibility of hiding some content and only showing it at the opportune moment it led to ideas on how to structure complex processes with several steps; or when Poll Everywhere added the possibility of voting on other people’s ideas it led to the opening of open spaces for collective brainstorming which would have previously been impossible (or required too much time).

There is also a possible dark side in this case, when we fall in love with the tool and add activities just so we can use it, and not for their real impact on the educational process. In this case, we must also remember that the tool is a means and not an end.

Lastly, personally, I have added and activity that I never used to do. When designing new lessons with digital interactions of varying nature and duration and mixing various tools, I had to start adding a test phase. I used to create the slides, think about how to narrate them and go into the classroom. Now I test all of the tools and interactions as if I were a participant. In fact, our ability to creatively manage the situation in the moment has drastically reduced due to the use of rich but rigid systems. If a link is missing, if the page does not refresh, if I can’t log into Mural… it takes a long time to deal with the problem and the amount of time lost without anything happening drastically reduces the educational experience, at the risk of jeopardising all the work that has been done.

Designing the educational experience, constantly exploring the potential of digital spaces and adding a test phase are new skills and activities that we must add to what we already do. Old activities are not replaced or eliminated. They are simple and also added. Like all jobs, ours is becoming more complicated and requires increasing levels of specialisation. Personally, I do not believe that this was triggered by the pandemic. This change was already underway; the pandemic acted as a catalyst and only made it quicker, giving us less time to react.