Blended Learning improves workload, feedback and students' motivation in USE courses

The USE courses (the USE basic course and the USE course sequences) at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) make students aware of, reflect on and model User, Society and Enterprise aspects of technologies. Some of these courses received lower-than-average student evaluations in 2015-2016. Students indicate that they are less motivated in the courses and spend less time studying. Students’ engagement seems low, impeding the courses’ efficiency.

One countermeasure is a project on peer feedback via blended learning to increase students’ study time, perception of relevance and motivation. Alongside workload increase, we want to see if peer feedback can partially replace tutor feedback in order to decrease the tutor workload without losing rigor.

 

We applied our project to two courses.

-        In their first year, students take a USE basic course (USEb) on ethics and history of technology. This 8 week 5 ECTS course is provided to almost 2000 first year students in 8 lecture groups and 32 tutorial groups. They make an assignment in groups of 3.

-        The Decision under Risk and Uncertainty exploratory course (DURU) is an 8-week course for 150 2nd and 3rd year students providing a multidisciplinary perspective on risk and decision making.

In the beginning of the project, we formulated the following SMART goals for the basic courses on students’ motivation, tutorials and feedback.

 

1) Lean and in-depth feedback with blended learning for (very) large groups. (SMART goal: students say they have sufficient opportunity for feedback in the basic course =3.5)

2) High student motivation of TU/e bachelor students (SMART goal: students say to enjoy the course=3.5)

3) Student work load (compared to a course of 5 ECTS) fits the ‘ideal’ of 3 on a 5-lickert scale. If students score this question higher/lower, they consider the course too heavy/too easy.

4) The specific Agora system should be adapted and be used as input for the TU/e broad LMS in order to give much more in-depth feedback for very large groups.

5) Increased insight in blended learning to optimize the above outcomes.

As our data show, the USE basic course did not yet meet the first objective of sufficient peer feedback. Improvements in the DURU course made us achieve the goal. The results also indicate that students are not strongly in need of tutor feedback to know if they are doing well. This indicates that there is room to decrease the role of the tutor.

The use of peer feedback is not importantly linked with motivation. The motivation for the courses remains below 3.5. We conclude here that objective 2 is not achieved. Other analysis (not shown here) indicates that there is little influence of peer feedback on motivation, slight on basic needs autonomy and relatedness. (Bombaerts and Nickel, 2017)

The third objective, increasing students work load, has been achieved. We had a significant increase of the workload in the USE basic course. The work load in the DURU increased as well. Discussions with students and the open questions illustrate that the feedback contributed (next to other course elements) to a significant increase in perceived relevance.

Our next aim (objective 4) was to adapt the learning platform Agora and include it in the learning management system that was to be introduced. Since the introduction was stepwise, we agreed with the project manager to use another platform, the TU/e internal OnCourse system. OnCourse has no sufficient functionalities for student groups to grade each other. We decided to use wiki’s. This was not an optimal choice, since students did not like to work in the wiki’s because of technical specifications. We will continue the project to find ways to introduce the feedback in the current learning management system.

 

We gained more insight in blended learning to optimize the above outcomes (objective 5). With the current systems, instructors do not experience that the current learning management system supports peer feedback very well. Instructors gain time from introduction peer feedback, but seem to lose it again in finding work arounds and doing administrative tasks that should be done by the LMS.

 

The lessons learnt are collected in this report (objective 6). The results will be disseminated at 4TU.CEE sessions. The insights will also be present in more detail at conferences (see Bombaerts and Nickel, 2017; Bombaerts, Vaessen and Spahn, 2016). These elaborations also deal with the self-determination theory, motivational types and basic needs.

The peer feedback method seems promising to elaborate further. Students seem to accept and appreciate non-anonymized peer feedback as method. For USE basis, the peer feedback should be elaborated more. The smaller (150 students) DURU course gives ideas about the 2000 students course. For DURU, the peer feedback in itself is well organized. The USE basic course is of course different, dealing with first years and being a much bigger and diverse course. One could look for ways to integrate it in other learning activities that intrinsically motivate students more.

 

The current LMS does not support grading automatically. Idea is to develop this further. If not, part of the gain of the tutor work load (reading papers) is lost in doing administrative organizations. Since it is useful for the TU/e as a whole, this should be strongly supported.