(643d) Student Activation and Interaction through Tutorials and Adequate Scheduling

Authors: 
Toch, K., Ghent University
Devocht, B. R., Ghent University
Lozano, L. A., Ghent University
Thybaut, J. W., Ghent University

Introduction

Activating students and interacting
with them are hot topics in education. In this respect, blended learning,
entailing the combination of a number of pedagogic approaches, irrespective of learning
technology used, represents a valuable approach [1]. The idea of blended
learning is founded upon the notion that every student has an individual way of
processing new theories. By offering a broad range of educational tools, the
chance for a student to successfully grasp a new concept drastically increases
[2-5]. Currently, e-learning is being hyped as the ultimate form of blended
learning. However, this form is not always easily accessible and similar
outcomes might be obtained through another form of blended learning, e.g.,
tutorials. Moreover, a critical assessment and reorganization of the course
schedule is expected to already significantly enhance the students’ motivation.

Kinetic Modelling and Simulation:
starting situation

At Ghent University, Belgium, Kinetic
Modelling and Simulation (KMS) is one of the core courses in the chemical
engineering program. During this course, 20 to 30 students are confronted with
a multidisciplinary field comprising mathematics, statistics, chemistry, engineering
and informatics aiming at simulating and, hence, elucidating chemical kinetics.
The KMS course spans a single semester, i.e., 12 weeks, and was constructed
upon 5 different pillars: theory, examples, exercises, projects and feedback,
see Figure 1. The theory, example and exercise sessions were given during the
contact hours. In total, 8 ex cathedra theory sessions of 3 clock hours were
scheduled in these 12 weeks to cover 5 topics: statistics (A), linear
regression (B), non-linear regression (C), experimental design and model
discrimination (D) and multi response regression (E). Exercises were only given
on the topic of non-linear regression and were situated relatively far in time
from the corresponding theory sessions, c.q., the
theory on non-linear regression was given in weeks 4 and 5 while the
corresponding exercises were held only in weeks 6, 7 and 9. During the latter
weeks, the theory corresponding to other concepts such as experimental design
was taught which did not promote the students’ learning process. Three projects
were given on three different topics, i.e., linear regression, non-linear
regression and experimental design aiming at model discrimination, after which
students got overall feedback. At the end of the course, 4 to 5 PhD students
presented their work as an example for different aspects in kinetic modelling.

Figure 1: Schedule
of the course Kinetic Modelling and Simulation before reorganization

Although the course has been evaluated
rather positively over the years, some issues were identified: (1) during the
theory sessions, interaction was limited due to the rather abstract
content, (2) students were ill-prepared for the exercise sessions, (3) not
all concepts were put in practice
through exercises and/or projects and (4)
throughout the semester, the workload was concentrated at specific times.

Reorganizing of the course according
to blended learning principles

Aiming at enhancing the students’
motivation and interaction with the teachers, a well-considered reorganization
of the KMS course has been implemented, see Figure 2. Ex-cathedra theory blocks
are, in this scheme, limited to 1.5 hours only and are followed by an equal
amount of time for tutorials and hands-on trainings in which the students
immediately process and apply the theory covered in the preceding time block.
In addition, after a number of theory and tutorial sessions, a project
assignment is given as a closure of that particular topic in which the student
has to prove that he/she can apply the theory individually. After every
project, which takes two weeks, students receive individual feedback. Compared
to the previous schedule, the sequence of theory processing through ex-cathedra
block, tutorials and projects is more continuous and, hence, contributes to a
more blended learning environment. The work presented by the PhD students as
kinetic modelling examples has been spread out more evenly at the end of the
semester. Lastly, some additional topics have been introduced: contribution and
reaction pathway analysis (F) and ‘reading and analyzing a scientific
publication’ in regression analysis (G) which are well considered and relevant
in the field of kinetic modelling.

Figure 2: Schedule
of the course Kinetic Modelling and Simulation after reorganization

Feedback and grading

Every student receives feedback in
various ways throughout the semester. Firstly, all 6 tutorial sessions are led
by a number of assistants, i.e., one assistant per 6 to 7 students. Hence,
during these tutorials, every student has a close interaction with an experienced
assistant. In addition, after every project, each student has personal
feedback, not only on their hard skills, i.e., the project report content, but
also on their soft skills, i.e., writing, visualizing and summarizing. At the
end of the semester, there is a common feedback session in which the students
give direct feedback to the teacher and assistants.

The final grade for the KMS course is
composed of two parts. One third is earned via the three projects made during
the semester. The remaining two thirds are obtained viva voce. Typically, this
examination comprises a theoretical question and a case study or a scientific
publication analysis. A student acquires the credits for the course when they
obtain a weighted score exceeding 50% (10 out of 20) with minimum score of 40%
on both components individually.

Benefits and challenges

An overview of the number of contact
hours and sessions is given in Table 1. Concerning theory, the contact hours decreased
from 24 to 22.5 hours while the number of contact sessions almost doubled. This
yielded more time for the students in which they can process the concepts
taught. Surprisingly, the time spent on exercises/tutorials stayed identical
while the number of sessions increased with 100%. Since these sessions are
planned directly after the corresponding theory session, the tutorials are
tailored specifically to this theory. Finally, more time was allocated for the
PhD students to explain their work within the framework of kinetic modelling to
the students. Although it could already be implied from a comparison of Figures
1 and 2, this reorganization did not result in a significant increase in
workload for the teacher and assistants. Moreover, the total number of contact
hours remained equal while the number of contact sessions doubled. However,
having a more strict schedule, requires the teacher and assistants to have a
more strict schedule.

Table 1: Number of contact hours and sessions of the course Kinetic
Modelling and Simulation before and after reorganization

Conclusions

By critically assessing and
reorganizing the schedule for the course Kinetic Modelling and Simulation
according to blended learning principles, the student/teacher/assistant
interaction has significantly increased, as reflected by the increase in number
of contact sessions. This resulted in a significantly augmented student
motivation. Although the amount of time spent by the teacher and assistants
during the course stays equal, it requires more flexibility. The immediate
follow-up of theoretical by the corresponding tutorial sessions allows for a
more direct learning process of the students, remediating their previous
ill-preparedness for the exercises. In addition, the workload has been spread out
more evenly over the semester.

References

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M.V. Lopez-Perez, M.C. Perez-Lopez, L. Rodriguez-Ariza,
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[4]
V. Woltering, A. Herrler,
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problem-based learning process: results of a mixed-method evaluation, Adv Health Sci Educ, 14 (2009) 725-738.

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J.H. Wu, R.D. Tennyson, T.L. Hsia, A study of student satisfaction in a blended
e-learning system environment, Comput Educ, 55 (2010) 155-164.

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