Effective Use of E-Learning for Improving Students’ Skills

Effective Use of E-Learning for Improving Students’ Skills

Lorenzo Salas-Morera (University of Córdoba, Escuela Politécnica Superior, Spain), Antonio J. Cubero-Atienza (University of Córdoba, Escuela Politécnica Superior, Spain), María Dolores Redel-Macías (University of Córdoba, Escuela Politécnica Superior, Spain), Antonio Arauzo-Azofra (University of Córdoba, Escuela Politécnica Superior, Spain) and Laura García-Hernández (University of Córdoba, Escuela Politécnica Superior, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-884-2.ch014
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The educational system promoted by the European higher education area advocates the introduction of new teaching methodologies in order to improve students’ skills as well as their knowledge in the subject areas they are studying. In response to this, new teaching strategies were implemented in Industrial Engineering and Software Engineering degree courses. The main goal of the project was to improve students’ skills in areas including problem-solving, information management, group working and the acquisition of writing and speaking skills, by means of e-learning tools. In addition to implementing the new strategies, a set of assessments including surveys, forum activity analyses and group tutorial evaluations were also carried out. The combined use of these techniques proved a very useful way of improving the students’ general skills and knowledge, especially in terms of design methods and organisation and planning ability and in general academical performance.
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Over the last few years, major regulatory changes have been introduced at European level, leading to an overhaul not only of the structure of university qualifications but also of teaching methods, with the incorporation of more active methodologies in which the role played by students in the learning process has expanded significantly. Teaching methods involving fluid and effective interaction between teacher and student, and amongst the students themselves, aimed at facilitating the exchange of opinions and general information, streamlining the tutorial system and encouraging group collaboration, have thus acquired particular importance.

The results presented here are drawn from a six-year experiment in Industrial Engineering and Software Engineering courses. Using a range of teaching techniques, the aim of these courses was to enhance the active and responsible participation of students in the learning process, and to enhance the acquisition not only of subject-related knowledge but also of certain general skills appropriate to the study of engineering. To this end, modified teaching methods were incorporated into four modules of the Engineering Projects section, in the last year of the course, replacing traditional teaching methods based on teacher-centred classes and examinations with an alternative based on various techniques such as asynchronous discussion forums, group tutoring, collaborative learning, online quizzes and peer assessment. To attain this objective, the following secondary considerations had to be addressed (Salas-Morera, Berral-Yerón, Serrano-Gómez & Martínez-Jiménez, 2009; Lan & Yang, 2009):

  • A.

    Students need to be motivated to work regularly and follow the correct sequence of activities set out in the syllabus.

  • B.

    Overall student working time needs to be appropriate to the credits assigned for the subject, adopting a realistic approach to all the activities required: attendance at theoretical and practical classes, private study, completion of tests, preparation of reports, tracking and participating in the forum.

  • C.

    The teacher needs to be able to attend – appropriately and at a suitable pace – to all the students in the time available.

  • D.

    The students need to receive prompt and reliable feedback on the results of the class assessments.

  • E.

    The members of the group need to interact proactively between themselves and with their teacher, raising questions and generating productive contributions to the discussion forums, constructing a knowledge base that is critical and robust.

The results of this experiment were generally highly positive. Specifically, students rated very highly the exchange of information through the forum, while the role of the teacher as motivator and moderator was regarded as crucial. Similarly, online quizzes were very positively viewed by students, who – in exchange for investing a moderate but timely amount of effort – were able to reap considerable academic rewards. Finally, it was seen as essential that the general scheduling of the students’ work be well coordinated in terms of the course as a whole, and realistic in terms of the amount of effort required, in order to avoid the kind of backlog that would hinder the assigned tasks being properly completed.

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