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Modified Blended Learning in Engineering

Christine Enowmbi Tambe - May 23, 2022

1. Introduction

In this paper, Ożadowicz (1) describes the modification of blended teaching methodologies implemented for students enrolled in Building Automation Courses at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland (AGH-UST) in response to the COVID19 lockdown guidelines and restrictions.

Due to their increasing popularity, blended learning (BL) methods were implemented in several courses of Building Automation at AGH-UST incorporating both online and traditional face-to-face learning environments. Study and video materials were shared with students via online Learning Management Systems (LMS) based on the Moodle platform. The author (1) emphasizes the importance of practical experiments in the teaching and learning process to develop technical and social skills in engineering students. These experiments usually require access to laboratories and technical equipment. However, the breakout of the COVID19 pandemic led to the lockdown of universities eliminating in-person teaching and interactions between students.

In a case study performed at AGH AutBudNet Building Automation Laboratory (ABNLab), Ożadowicz (1) describes the reorganization of lectures and especially laboratory classes to accommodate fully remote modes of teaching as well as to allow the effective transfer of knowledge and technical skills to students. This was achieved through the implementation of a mix of asynchronous and synchronous online and offline strategies, which were able to preserve students’ outputs and increase their effectiveness in autonomously searching for and acquiring knowledge. In the paper, Ożadowicz (1) presents the methods and tools of BL already implemented, as well as those implemented in the modified learning process during COVID19 lockdown. The experiences of the teachers and students which were gathered during the case study were also discussed.

2. Building Automation Courses – New Frameworks, Concepts and Tools

2.1. Lectures in the Blended Learning Mode with E-Learning Tools

Learning Management Systems (LMS): The remote exchange of study materials and lecture presentations was made possible via the University E-Learning Platform (UPEL). To accommodate the restrictions placed by administrators on the amount and volume of shared files, other services such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive were introduced, with links available for students in UPEL.

Lesson Module on the UPEL/Moodle platform: The lessons were organized into subsequent stages of learning according to the course schedule with quizzes to verify self-learning; successful completion of these quizzes was required to proceed to the next stage of the lesson with the possibility to check and improve answers. To guide students in the self-learning process, the Lesson Module allowed the addition of links to study materials or additional knowledge sources based on the student’s answers.

Flipped Classroom: The availability of prepared lessons on UPEL allowed the introduction of a flipped classroom formula. During lectures, the teacher moderates a discussion with students on the important issues and problematic threads of a new topic, systematizing the information achieved by students, while also allowing them to actively use knowledge gained during self-learning. To activate student engagement at the beginning of such lectures, a short online pre-questionnaire is organized in both open and closed formulae using the Mentimeter platform for students to participate in using their smartphones/laptops which they often have. To verify the acquisition of new information during the lecture, a short test may be organized using the Slido platform at the end of the lecture.

2.2. Lectures with Distance Learning during Lockdown

Online synchronous discussions: The previously prepared repositories of study materials available on UPEL were supported with synchronous discussions via MS Teams channels. The most important elements in PDF files were highlighted to guide students on what information to pay special attention to for further discussion in subsequent lecture webinars and lab classes.

Tests: This was an important element of the modified implementation which was used to track students’ progress in reading study materials and learning technical aspects. These tests were organized using a Test-Quiz Module in UPEL. The Lesson Module was also used to organize short questions at the end of each lesson. This increased inquiries to the lecturer as well as exchange of information between students and lecturer in UPEL discussion forums.

Webinars: These were dedicated to the transfer of substantive knowledge in synchronous mode. Video camera transmission and active communication chats provided a substitute for direct contact between lecturers and students. Questions posed by students in chats could be answered by the lecturer in short Q&A sessions at the end of the Webinar. With consent from students, webinars were recorded using the OBS Studio tool. These recorded webinars were accessible on UPEL only by registered students of the course, so students could replay content and refer it to information available in lecture presentations. The acquisition of required substantive knowledge was verified using summative tests organized twice in the semester.

Preparation of reports in small student groups: This was proposed particularly for students with no background knowledge of the course to expand their knowledge. To evaluate and verify the systematic work of students on reports, they had to share found materials using an interactive board provided by the Padlet online platform.

2.3. Laboratory classes supplemented with E-Learning Tools

Laboratory experiments were mainly based on direct contact of the students with teacher and laboratory infrastructure. To introduce BL, study materials and instruction guides for laboratory courses were made available to students on UPEL. To provide a balance between substantive knowledge and practical experiments, the first few lab meetings were conducted in the form of active, moderated technical discussions supported by technical demonstrations at the stand of various technologies. The next few lab meetings were conducted in the form of workshops, based on knowledge acquired by students, with different activities for them at the laboratory stands.

The knowledge and practical skills gained were verified through a UPEL test and the assessment of lab reports prepared by students and submitted to UPEL.

2.4. Laboratory classes with Distance Learning Model – Modified Approach and Solutions

Communication: Communication with students about lab classes transitioned to remote mode on forums by inviting students to sign up on all UPEL courses which had laboratory exercises. Video demonstrations: To provide students with knowledge and practical aspects of five different building automation technologies, five video demonstrations of laboratory stands were prepared by the author showing each automation equipment and the integration software used during the exercises. Demonstrations were supported with photos and software screenshots (for better visualization of elements), measurement data, and parameter recordings from the demonstrations. These materials were shared electronically on the UPEL course repository. Short quizzes were prepared for students on UPEL to focus their learning on the most technical aspects related to technologies considered in the next classes.

Webinars: The sharing of each video demonstration of a particular automation technology on UPEL was preceded by a webinar organized for students to discuss technical aspects regarding that technology followed by a short Q&A session.

Diversification of information presentation: In place of reports, students were asked to prepare Mind Maps on the most technical and functional aspects of the modern building automation technologies. This was done to encourage students to present, categorize and logically combine knowledge and technical information in an unconventional way. Students overcame the initial surprise of this new formula and showed commitment and ingenuity in preparing their maps.

Online synchronous work with equipment: Student groups were granted fully remote access to devices with the IP network interface, and software in the laboratory. Students configurated devices according to the exercise instructions and video tutorials available to them on UPEL. The work was monitored by one of the teachers to ensure safety and to provide technical support. Students were obligated to prepare short reports with the results of their work after the lab exercises.

3. Experiences

The experiences of the participants in this case study could be summarized as follows:

  • There was a noticeable increase in students’ effectiveness in searching for and acquiring new information.
  • There is value in the future implementation of FC formula with emphasis on individual and student group work in asynchronous mode.
  • Lectures could be hybridised, i.e. traditional face-to-face lectures supplemented with periodic online webinars. This is to encourage the efficient use of online tools which will be necessary in the students’ professional careers.
  • FC approach increases students’ involvement and attendance.
  • Engagement in activities (questionnaires, quizzes, tests, etc.) with mobile devices focus students’
  • The essential element of BL implementation is an asynchronous, individual learning process. Nonetheless, the effective use of the knowledge acquired requires active technical discussions with students, combined with practical works.

In conclusion, the author (1) acknowledges that the transition to fully remote mode brought several benefits and hopes that this revolutionary modernization of teaching methods with new technologies will continue in the future despite the easing of restrictions. Nonetheless, Ożadowicz (1) emphasizes that face-to-face meetings and contacts between teacher and students are still crucial elements and provide the most efficient BL teaching model.

References

[Source] Ożadowicz A. Modified blended learning in engineering higher education during the COVID-19 lockdown—Building automation courses case study. Education Sciences. 2020 Oct;10(10):292.
DOI: 10.3390/educsci10100292

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