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PRISMA is a student-lead initiative that creates a community of interdisciplinary and open-minded students. It encourages the participants to analyze real-world challenges and learn from each other while working on potential solutions. Through PRISMA, students learn to put theories into context, think critically and widen their horizons.

What is the motivation behind the creation of PRISMA?

On a Bachelor level, ETH students currently receive a strong foundation in specialist knowledge. However, they get fewer opportunities to put their learnings into context. PRISMA is based on the hypothesis that this should already be done on a BSc level and that students will recognize the value in doing so earlier on. We encourage students to confidently adapt to uncertainty and effectively cooperate with others to manage the ambiguous nature of real-world problems. To do so, three main approaches are used: a PRISMA course, sprinkling fundamental BSc lectures, and a series of networking events.

1. Course: The PRISMA Course is offered each semester across multiple departments, starting in the fall semester 2020. Each year it is themed on a different Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). This year, the focus is on the SDG11: «Sustainable Cities and Communities». Instead of giving the students a concrete task, they are asked to define their own challenge and think of forward-looking solutions in teams. The methodology used is Design Thinking and our role-model, the ETH Week. MSc coaches accompany the BSc teams and are responsible for aligning the fast-paced process with team dynamics. This student-to-student coaching system fosters a more interactive constellation. The role of the coaches should be exclusively supportive and method-oriented to avoid biasing the group to think in a certain direction. MSc students can design their own teaching strategies in weekly workshops, running in parallel to the PRISMA course.

2. Sprinkles: While several independent attempts to enhance the representation of method-specific, personal, and social skills in fundamental BSc lectures already exist, PRISMA wants to address the problem in a more coordinated manner. We inspire and support BSc professors to introduce interdisciplinary and critical thinking elements – the so-called Sprinkles – into their lectures. Since they are embedded in already existing lectures, a large number of Bachelor students can profit from them without any additional time cost. This approach has a high scalability potential.

3. Networking events: Finally, PRISMA holds several networking events, not only to connect students from different disciplines among each other, but also to academia and industry experts. The goal of those events is to help the students widen their horizons and to build a bridge between university and society.

Running a teamwork-based course in Covid-19 times

Course: PRISMA Capstone “Rethinking Sustainable Cities and Communities”
Format: 1-2 lecturers, 4 coaches, 4 teams of 4 students each
Category: Elective
ECTS: 4 credits across multiple departments (ARCH, CHAB, ITET, HEST, INFK, MATH, RW)

Interaction is key for this type of work and the current situation supposes a great challenge to it. To be able to safely run the course, we came up with a hybrid solution: the theoretical part of the lecture is given virtually, while the teamwork happens physically in small bubbles. We use two locations in parallel, with two teams of 4 students each per location, in order to respect social distancing. Each team is assigned a coach, that accompanies the 4 team participants along the project. Inside these bubbles, students can work closely together, but wearing masks for the full class. In the case of a student being Covid-19 positive, only the members of the corresponding bubble and the respective coach must go into quarantine.