SEFI 2020 part 2

Attending the conference.

Posted by Daphne Miedema on September 25, 2020 · 9 mins read
tripreport virtualevent

In my last post you could read about my introduction to SEFI through its Doctoral Symposium. In the past few days, I attended the conference and learnt more about SEFI itself and the types of work showcased there.

SEFI 2020 took place between September 21 and September 24, and was supposed to be held at University of Twente, in Enschede, the Netherlands. Due to the pandemic, it had to be held online. It was my first contact with the Engineering Education community.

SEFI and Engineering Education Research

I found SEFI by accident, searching for venues of interest for my research. Their website gave some pointers, but it was not until the conference itself that I learnt more about what SEFI was.

On the first day of the main conference, there was a newcomers lunch, in which we were introduced to all the aspects of SEFI. In the opening of the conference, we had already seen some videos introducing Special Interest Groups, but in this meeting we were introduced to all the other SIGs too. We were encouraged to join their meetup at the conference, and possibly to join the SIG itself. As TU/e is an institutional member, this makes me eligible for participation.

I also learnt that the European Journal of Engineering Education is the official journal of SEFI. Later in the week, I joined a workshop that taught me more on this and other engineering education journals.


Throughout the week I attended two of the four keynotes.

On Monday, there was an opening keynote by Greet Langie from the Engineering Education team at KU Leuven. She discussed her group's work on the PREFER project, which helps engineering students think about what kind of job they would prefer after graduation. There seems to be a difference in the types of roles students would like to have, and the types of roles available in companies. Increasing student awareness that there is not just 'the engineer' but everyone has their own interests and strenghts, can hopefully mitigate this disparity.

The second keynote I attended was the closing keynote by Ruth Graham. Ruth's work is on celebrating and rewarding of teaching in academia. Most of the times, the top contributor for academic promotions is research work. However, a large number of university employees would like teaching to play a large(r) role in this process. Ruth talked about barriers to change, such as the fact that there are no straight-forward metrics of teaching skill beyond student evaluations, and there are no definition available of different levels of teaching skills. This leads to the conclusion that getting better at teaching does not lead to increased rewards. Luckily, a collaborative movement for change is on its way.

Papers and posters

The main content of a conference is of course its paper sessions. Unfortunately, most of the work was not directly relevant to my research. With my Computer Science background I felt a bit of an imposter. During some sessions on Mathematics, the session chair acknowleged that Mathematics researchers had their own conferences and SIGs, so they were under represented during the main conference. This same fact holds for Computer Science Education of course.

I did attend sessions on other interesting topics such as collaboration, project-based learning, talent management and research methodology. The sessions were all set up as 7 minutes of (prerecorded) presentation and 8 minutes of questions. Discussions in most of the sessions were lively, and often not all questions could be answered.

The poster sessions were set up differently, with pitches of 45 seconds and 9 minutes of discussion. However, the 45 seconds were not enough to introduce the poster, such that presenters regularly took another 5 minutes to provide more context. The posters were unfortunately not readable in a shared screen during the zoom chat, so the poster sessions fell a bit flat for me. I believe a longer pitch could make a difference here, but the best option for me would be to have a-synchronous poster sessions, where each poster has their own 'room' that you could chat questions to.


On top of the aformentioned sessions I attended two workshops.

On Wednesday, I attended a workshop on increasing engagement for scientific posters. It was prepared by Rick Evans, Traci Nathans-Kelly and Allison Hutchison of the Cornell Engineering Communications Program. We were introduced to the Theory of Communicative Practice and this theory was then applied to create a poster. The main message is that communication is mediated social action. So for a poster to work well, a reflection on the action you want from your poster viewers is required.

The first advice I received was on looking for collaborators. You can do this the straight-forward way: write something like "Let's collaborate" at the bottom of your poster. The implicit way is to float further research ideas in your discussion section and have other people react to that.

The second piece of advice was on the design. It can be a good idea to reflect on the design of your poster after the session. One thing to consider is whether you received the action you were hoping for. For example, have you found collaborators? Then reflect on how changes in the design could have lead to different outcomes. Placement, size, wording and other aspects can influence the effectiveness of your poster.

The organizers also provided us with a lot of interesting materials and resources, they can be found here.

On Thursday, I attended a workshop on reviewing for Journals. The organizers were editors for four large Journals in the Engineering Education Space:

  • European Journal of Engineering Education
  • IEEE Transactions on Education
  • Journal of Engineering Education (US-based)
  • Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

We were introduced to the journals, their focus and requirements, and their submission/acceptance numbers. After the introduction we went into break-out rooms with an editor and discuss what points of advice we could give reviewers. As I have never submitted to a Journal, nor reviewed for one yet, I was first introduced to the process by my room's editor: Sally Male. We discussed what we had found (not) useful in reviews we had received previously. Then we went back into the main room and each group discussed some of their advice. This has led to a large resource of advice that I will certainly look back on.

Unfortunately there was no time to have the editors reflect on what they found most important, but as each group contained an editor I have confidence in the list of items within the collaborative document. Finally, we were able to sign up as a reviewer, which I think was a very smart move of the workshop organizers!

Online conferencing

As this was my first conference, I cannot really compare it to face-to-face conferences. However, I feel that the sessions were executed well and there was opportunity for connection and networking. Perhaps the food at UTwente would have been better than what I prepared at home, I'm not sure :).

All in all I'm very glad to have attended SEFI. Regardless of location, the program was good, and the transition was smooth with all the technical support. The papers and posters were of high quality. My compliments to the organization (including session hosts and SAs) for pulling this off.