Effective Teaching and supervision of students through the support of blended learning tools

Description

With the implementation of the Graduate School (GS) new educational challenges arise. First of all, following the TU/e 2020 vision to educate 50% more engineers and to increase the variety of engineering profiles (industry, research, teaching), the Applied Physics (AP) and Science and Technology of Nuclear Fusion master study programs have been upgraded in order to meet this plan. Within the AP master study program two certificates have been introduced, one for physics research and one for physics engineering. The second certificate caters to the need for physicists with more inclination towards solving technological problems. The master course of Physics of Engineering Problems (PEP) is part of this certificate. In addition, students need to pursue an internship in the industry to gain a master certificate in Physics Engineering. This requires supervision and attention to individual needs and interests.

Secondly, some implications of the GS ambition is that the classroom composition is more multidisciplinary than ever as the Applied Physics, but more specifically Fusion courses attract students from other TU/e departments and from international universities. The students’ intake differs therefore in terms of disciplines and background, prior knowledge and learning styles, but also in profiles, interests and in career perspectives. This requires individual attention to the students.

Finally, the supervision of the students during the courses and master research project becomes a crucial trajectory in order to stimulate students work independently but also 3 to become critical towards own work and that of others. This implies supervision on practical, research and design assignments and projects to develop abilities to analyze complex problems, creativity, ‘out-of-the-box’ and critical thinking expected in our future graduates to solve technological challenges. The development of professional skills in our graduates are also of paramount importance. In order to face these challenges it is essential to innovate and adapt the educational and assessment forms to make education tailored-made to the engineering profiles, on one hand. On the other, we also consider crucial to meet the individual needs of the students and differences regarding:  learning style and pace;  lacunas and capabilities, such as analysis of equations, graphical representation and quantitative analysis; synthesizing and drawing conclusions.  prior knowledge: understanding numerical methods. Blended-learning provides opportunities to optimize education and intensify contact hours while making more efficient the students’ self-study time. Moreover, supervision forms that challenges and brings about opportunities to apply and to expand students’ technological knowledge are crucial. These supervision forms, rooted in collaborative learning methods (i.e. afstudeerkring1, small-group tutorial meetings and intervision, among others) are suitable to integrate in study practices to stimulate creative and critical thinkers, but also to improve the professional skills. 

objective

Our primary goal is to make education more efficient both for teachers and students, and tailored-made to the students’ engineering profiles, disciplines and educational interests. This implies changes in educational methods, and a careful supervision on students. The project has the following objectives:

  • To upgrade educational methods that allows students to acquire engineering skills i.e. use and apply a systematic problem-solving approach to define, implement and validate multiphysics models. This will be achieved by the purchase of the software integrated user interface environment, COMSOL Multiphysics, designed for crossdisciplinary product development with a unified workflow for electrical, mechanical, fluid, and chemical applications. As an online classroom kit, COMSOL Multiphysics allows up to 30 students to in log and follow the lectures. This allows students to develop experiments and carry out simulations. This is an innovative tool as COMSOL has never been used within the context of higher education in the AP department. 
  • Furthermore, with this project and this tool we are trying to innovate educational methods which have a real meaning for the students preparation as graduates. In addition, we also want to make a breakthrough in teaching physicist to model engineering problems in our department. The acquisition of this tool will definitively influence teaching and learning.
  • To integrate blended-learning in Science and Technology of Nuclear Fusion master courses (Magnetic Confinement and MHD for fusion plasmas - 3MF110- Fusion Reactors: extreme materials and intense plasma wall interaction - 3MF120) by incorporating IT tools (weblectures, screencast or pencasts, to address deficiencies and individual needs as mentioned above).
  • To integrate a new supervision form based on small-group tutorials & intervision for master students carrying out master courses and research within the Science and Technology of Fusion and PEP study program. 

Evaluation supervision methods

  1. Abstract method: In conclusion, the SL2.0 has turned the SL1.0 into a much more effective educational activity, and one that is more enjoyable, too. This has come at no additional effort of the staff at all. It has really surprised us how much better the SL works after making such simple adjustments. It works so well that one asks why the same principle isn’t applied to other meetings, such as colloquia.
  2. The master ring: This method works best with a small group of students. The method works positively when the students are motivated. Instruction on the method and how to give feedback supports.
  3.  Peer review at Applied Physics: The peer review sessions have taken place already two times. There are still two to go by the time this report is written. It is difficult at this stage to draw conclusions. However, the initial impressions by the students is that this is a useful activity as they are able to share common issues that can help others to find solutions for problems.

Results

The effects of the online tools on students learning to use simulation models for engineering problems resulted in some gains. A number of steps are practiced, such as analysis of equations, graphical representation and quantitative analysis; synthesizing and drawing original conclusions in a systematic learning process.

The blended-learning tool COMSOL Multiphysics has served to stimulate students’ thinking process in solving engineering problems. Moreover, the problem-based and project-based learning approach has fostered collaborations as perceived by the students.

Rubrics have been applied for assessment of the work of the students and the feedback from companies and teachers has been compared. Comparing the scores of the industry and the teachers regarding students’ products indicate that the appreciation of the final result by the company problem owners correlates with the judgements of the teachers for each step in the process. We can conclude therefore that the steps in the rubrics to assess the problem-solving strategy are appropriate for this project-based course and should lead to a better result for the companies.

However, it is still early to mention to what extend the new generation of students in engineering physics have made a stand in the industry by this different way of educating physicists. Further studies on academic output to the industry need to be conducted in order to evaluate objectively the level of satisfaction and quality of students to the labour market.

Future improvements of this course consist of more involvement of the industry in the monitoring of the projects, an improved time schedule leaving a week longer for work on the company assignment, a peer review method to intensify the learning process of the students, optimizing self-study through the use of weblectures, and improving the attitude of the students for problem solving. Weblectures provide an additional learning tool to pay attention in detail to already-identified subjects while bridging the gap between the subject matter taught in the lectures, the project-based assignments and simulation work, and finally, the additional subjects provided in the lectures. This didactical Lunch meetings setup: Abstract Presentation method is still new and under construction and we do not present results so far on the effect on the learning process of the students as we do not have reference data yet with non-blended learning.