Students' Perceptions Toward an International Telecollaboration Project Through an Engineering-Themed Online Simulation in a Language-Learning Setting

Students' Perceptions Toward an International Telecollaboration Project Through an Engineering-Themed Online Simulation in a Language-Learning Setting

Juan Francisco Coll-García (Universitat Jaume I, Castelló, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2591-3.ch009


This chapter investigates student perceptions toward an international collaboration that involved an online role-play simulation, Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Forty-two undergraduate students enrolled in an engineering course at a university in the United States were paired with 56 engineering students based at a university in Spain. The simulation was designed and developed not only to foster problem-solving skills, but also to provide opportunities for participants to develop communication skills, teamwork, and professionalism. The simulation also provided opportunities for EFL students to communicate in English and develop their intercultural skills through the use of a variety of electronic collaboration tools. This chapter reports on participant feedback and highlights the benefits of the computer-based nature of the telecollaboration.
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This article describes an innovative CALL-based study undertaken in response to changes in engineering education, following the release of new program criteria from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET’s newest criteria give much greater emphasis to “soft skills” such as communication, teamwork and professionalism, which has led to dramatic changes in engineering curricula.

As global trends have created major changes in the way the world does business (Geithner & Menzel, 2016), they have also created similar changes in the way engineering projects are carried out (Felder, Brent & Prince, 2011; Parkinson, 2009; Rutta, 2015). Universities are modernizing their curricula to enable their graduates to succeed in the global marketplace (Ayokanmbi, 2011) in which they work, with colleagues who have similar skills but different values and ideas (Ravesteijn, DeGraaf, & Kroesen, 2006). Despite the attention to ABET criteria, engineering faculty are still relying heavily on outdated teaching models (Sheppard, Macatangay, Colby, & Sullivan, 2008). Grandin and Heddrich (2009) suggest that it is important for engineering students to “go out of their comfort zone and seek authentic experiences” (p. 368) in order to be competitive in the global marketplace. They suggest that “international internships or projects” would help prepare students for the engineering jobs of the future (p. 369). May and Tekkaya (2016) and Yu (2012) agree that transnational collaboration is critical if students are to develop language skills and sensitivity. However, this is less likely to be accomplished, according to Killen (2015) by using the lecture format for delivering engineering education. He maintains that the lecture format should be replaced with more student-centered activities, especially “role plays, games, case analysis, collaborative projects and in-class simulations” (p. 479). Latucca, Bergom and Knight (2014) concur, claiming that student-centered classrooms “are associated with greater student engagement and achievement than are traditional lecture-based, instructor-centered approaches” (p. 550). Such activities are more likely to encourage students to “think critically, creatively, and outside the box” (Ziemiewski, 2009, p. 8) and, foster “communication, teamwork, and creativity” (Bodnar, Anastasio, Enszer, & Burkey. 2016, p. 147), some of the most desirable skills for engineering graduates (Passow, 2012).

A number of researchers have pointed out the need for engineers to learn to work collaboratively in multicultural or transnational teams (Downey et al., 2006; Felder, Brent, & Prince, 2011; May, Wold, & Moore, 2014; Moore, May, & Wold, 2012). Passow and Passow (2017) assert that engineers’ understanding of technical considerations “is inseparably intertwined with team-player collaboration” (p. 475). In addition, researchers have stressed the importance of communication skills (Larkin, 2015; Mills & Treagust, 2003). Parkinson (2009) outlines 13 dimensions of global competence, and stresses the importance of appreciating other cultures and being able to communicate across them. He maintains that global competence can be developed if students collaborate on projects with teams in another setting or culture. If they have had an opportunity to work together and to collaborate in a “service learning opportunity, a virtual global engineering project or some other form of experience” (pp. 12-13), then they will more likely be ready for the kinds of real-life experiences they will encounter on the job.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Four-skill ESL/EFL Classes: Classes in with English as a second or foreign language is taught thorough the development of the four communicative skills, namely listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Collaborative Learning: Cooperative arrangement in which learners of different abilities and interests work jointly in small groups to complete a project or solve a problem.

Simulation: Language learning model which allows students to express themselves to their peers in a group setting. Students take on specific roles and they are given a task which may last a single period or stretch over a number of sessions. At the end of the exercise the group will have arrived at some decision which they will be expected to justify.

Intercultural Competence: Ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behavior and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions.

ABET Criteria: The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology is a non-governmental organization that sets criteria for accrediting engineering, technology, and computer science programs. It specifies minimum curricula and it establishes a set of student outcomes.

“Soft skills”: Combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, personality traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals.

Critical Thinking: Refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings.

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