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Engineering Education

How mobile technology can facilitate students’ collaborative learning – in lockdown and beyond

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Partial or total lockdowns force people, lecturers and students to continue their work from home with nearly no warning and no preparation. In the 4TU.CEE project “Mobile learning” TU/e researchers conducted research to understand how students use distance collaboration tools when working together on homework assignments.

For that, they were provided with iPads, keyboards and Pencils so that students were able to communicate over distance (e.g. though MS teams). The touchscreen and pencil provided students with the option to use handwriting in their communication, which is highly relevant in technical subjects where symbolic formulas are an important part of communication.

Collaborating over distance
In Applied Mathematics, we asked students to collaborate over distance in a proof-writing activity. In Biomedical Engineering, students used the iPad to stream their lab work. One student in the lab used the iPad to stream his/her lab work to the group, using for example MS teams. This way, the students could collaboratively engage in the lab work, e.g. by making suggestions to the lab student on how to proceed in an experiment. All students taking part in this project felt at ease with the settings provided.

Smart pen
The students in Applied Mathematics reported that a tablet with a smart pen had a positive impact in being able to communicate with their teammates through drawings and sketches to convey their ideas. However, drawing with a pen does require some practice. Also, the available tools for collaborating provided limitations, e.g. in editing each other’s drawings.

Tablets
Biomedical engineering students collaborated during lab work by using tablets, for example to solve problems collaboratively during their lab work. Such collaboration in itself is an innovative learning opportunity provided by mobile devices that can enhance ‘traditional’ lab work. Minor issues were reported, such as background noise and not being able to type on the tablet while performing the experiments (for hygienic reasons).

Overall, the exploratory study, initiated in reaction to the lockdown, shows that mobile technology provides innovative learning opportunities that are worthwhile to implement - even after the lockdown.

The project team

The project team consists of Alexander Schüler-Meyer, Mara Saeli, Birgit Pepin, Richard Engeln, Hans Sterk, Mariëlle Bosboom, Gamze Dane. More information about this project can be found on the 4TU.CEE Innovation map.