An inventive course shared between Sweden and China
A pillowcase that lets you sleep on your laptop (the “Naptop”), a talking teddy bear for infants, a photo frame for the elderly, who can speak to the person pictured, and a chair for pensioners to wait for the bus were among the creative ideas when Lund students practised innovation and product development on a course in China.
Charlotta Johnsson (programme coordinator Technology Management, LTH) and Carl-Henric Nilsson (programme coordinator Technology Management, EHL), started a new interdisciplinary and international course in China at the beginning of the autumn semester. They took 37 Swedish students with them to China, who joined 32 Chinese students from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. The Swedish students are studying Technology Management (TM), a two-year programme at Lund University which admits a mixture of engineering and economics students.
The Swedish students, half of whom are from LTH and half from EHL, had already been studying together for a year. The Chinese students, however, did not know one another in advance, because they came from different disciplines and interdisciplinary collaboration in undergraduate and Master’s education is very unusual in China. They specialised in industrial design, automatic control engineering or management.
“The idea of the course is for students to learn innovation, product development, marketing and sales and writing a business plan. They worked in mixed groups of 8–9 students on the theme of ‘Helping everyday life’. The task involved identifying needs, coming up with ideas and how to realise them, implementing them and making a business plan”, explained Charlotta. “How can an idea be taken from development to market to sale? The groups developed a product prototype and wrote a business plan for it. They also made short films about the process.”
“It was a great course, especially for those of us who had not studied abroad before”, said one of the students.
The course was concluded in China, where all the groups gave an oral presentation of their work, showed the films they had recorded and demonstrated their prototypes. The local newspaper, Quinjiang Evening Post, was also there. Hangzhou is a city of around 6 million.
A number of lecturers with different areas of expertise contributed to the course; from Lund, LTH lecturers Andreas Larsson, innovation, Damian Motte, product development, and Charlotta Johnsson, automatic control, and EHL lecturer Carl-Henrik Nilsson, marketing and sales. Lecturers from China were Jun Jin, innovation, Qinmin Yang, automatic control, Shijian Luo, industrial design, and Weiqing Xu, marketing.
“It has been a lot of fun and a great learning experience to work in such an integrated manner with the Chinese lecturers”, said Charlotta Johnsson, who also took the opportunity to do some research with her Chinese counterparts from automatic control in Hangzhou.
The prototypes that were developed were a blanket, a solar-powered lamp for an electric scooter, seats for the elderly in bus shelters, a teddy bear that can talk to a child if it wakes up, and an inflatable laptop shell, called the Naptop. Another product idea was a computer alarm that is activated if anyone touches it. One group based their product on the silent electric scooters that travel the streets of the city, often without lights, so they can neither be seen nor heard. Solar-powered lamps that come on automatically when it is dark could be a solution to the problem.
Andreas Larsson was impressed that the groups not only hit on a concept but managed to also make prototypes, even if some got further than others.
The original idea for the course came from Per Warfvinge, LTH’s vice-dean, who told Charlotta and Carl-Henric about the agreement LU has with Zhejiang University and the summer courses that environmental engineering students take in China. Charlotta and Carl-Henric grasped the opportunity and developed the course together with colleagues in Sweden and their counterparts in China.
“We received good support during the planning of the course from the Joint Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (JCIE), a platform that has been created for collaboration between Lund University and Zhejiang University”, say Charlotta and Carl-Henric. They also received financial support from STINT, which enabled them to travel to ZJU a couple of times before the start of the course. There were also many meetings on Skype with the Chinese staff.
The Swedish students also gave a later presentation from the course back in Lund. The students spoke about wide cultural differences and differences in language skills. At the start of the project, the Swedish students took charge in the groups, but they put this down to the fact that they had already known one another for over a year – unlike the Chinese students. The Swedish students also thought they had greater experience of working on projects. However, they were impressed by the Chinese students’ knowledge of their subjects.
“It might be an idea next time to have more discussion of cultural differences in ways of working at the start of the course, and more teambuilding”, suggested a few students.
Others said that their preconceived ideas had been disproved. The Chinese seemed similar to the Swedes once they got to know one another; they were creative and their different knowledge often proved very useful. Some of the Chinese were also keen to go further and actually apply for a patent for their ideas.
“It took a long time to get going in the groups”, said several students, “because it took a long time to get to know one another. But it was definitely worth it. We have learnt a lot.”
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