On-line ideas for teaching engineering, science and tech

This is the fifth in a series by Steve Mackay and Edwina Ross (Engineering Institute of Technology)

 Do it in teams: One of the greatest advances in education over the past decade is collaborative learning. Capstone projects in teams are regarded highly by engineering regulators.

Successful learning can occur when activities are: * performed in a group collaboratively * undertaken in a project setting * based on authentic real work activities.

This can be achieved as successfully by virtual teams :  Instead of meeting face-to-face the teams can remain geographically scattered, using telecommunications-based technologies, often in an asynchronous manner. Virtual collaborative learning will occur when two or more people work together on an educational project using computers (and the internet) as the interface.

Advantages include: * increased understanding and better retention of course materials compared with a classroom session * appreciation of the opinions and analyses of others * higher level of critical thinking, analysis and assessment when working together on a problem involving conflict resolution * higher motivation for learning when part of a group * lower attrition in on-line learning.

Some disadvantages are: * unequal contributions from different members * team instability in the early part of the term, as class enrolment can fluctuate * leadership issues.

Typical activities in a virtual collaborative group: * analysing case studies * working on an engineering design * discussion/debates with synchronous/asynchronous tools * creating and maintaining communities of practice.

Suggestions for facilitating a virtual team: * focus on specific cases with a possibility of real results * team members have a range of skill sets * simplify projects * effective comms tool * equal workloads * quieten dictatorial team leaders * ensure all members participate fully


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