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Using a 21st century teaching model

As an experienced Unit Coordinator this Senior Lecturer describes the improvements he has made to teaching and learning within his Engineering School through the use of technology. His work is acknowledged by both his university leadership and his international peers. More...

When I arrived here six years ago I found a traditional university teaching model in place for engineering students. Each week 120 students attended a one hour lecture followed by a two hour tutorial and historically 30-40% of students failed the unit. The two undergraduate units I was taking responsibility for were fundamental units across the engineering program, where it is critical that students develop a strong understanding of the concepts from the beginning. Rather than continue to simply deliver the lectures I wanted to know what was happening in the tutorials and find ways to better engage the students. I found students worked through their tutorials with limited support, limited individual engagement in the tutorial tasks and were unclear about what knowledge to build on.

While I recognised the need for a different approach it was a daunting task to make changes. I approached a computer science colleague and we collaborated so that I used his PhD designed e-learning platform with my students as he did with his own students. This meant I introduced a blended approach to my laboratory sessions and introduced new e-learning modules for improved learning. I could now teach students individually through the e-learning platform. I set up real world engineering problems for students to work through. For example by setting students the task of designing a bridge I could provide background information during my lecture, then set different parameters to the task by changing the requirements for the numbers of vehicles capable of crossing at once, the type of support system provided for the bridge, or the length of spans available. Using the tool available within the e-learning platform, I provided rapid feedback and responses to student questions so they in turn engaged in conversation. This 21st century teaching model also enabled students to confer, correct and support each other while learning. If any information others provided was inaccurate I interfered with corrections. I was also able to use the e-learning platform for assessment. Students cannot copy or share answers when they are asked the same question but provided with different parameters resulting in different answers.

I change my lecture delivery annually so that I sometimes present two, two hour lectures, rather than four one hour lectures weekly. I offer additional time to discuss lecture material and assessments, and welcome constructive feedback with students. My lectures are influential in the engineering courses and 60% to 70% of students regularly attend them. A few years ago I implemented an award system where I provide book vouchers with certificates signed by our Head of School and me, to students who achieve perfect unscaled scores for their assessments. Sometimes I am able to recruit tutors from among the award winning students.

My work is acknowledged at my university and nationally. Last year I received a Vice Chancellor’s Excellence in Teaching Award, an Australian Learning and Teaching Council citation and was invited to answer questions, about good teaching practice and motivating students, from colleagues. The teaching method I developed was taken up by my colleagues within the Faculty and four other universities. A total of 37 universities are likely to introduce the teaching model using e-platform in their engineering courses by the end of the year. My Head of School and Vice Chancellor are supportive of my teaching initiatives and my students value my efforts.

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