Elf is a lecturer in the School of Engineering and Computer Science and course coordinator for ENGR 101 and 110.
ENGR101 - Engineering technology and ENGR110 – Engineering Modelling and Design are compulsory 12-week courses held in Trimester One. Both courses are split into three one-hour lectures per week, a one-hour tutorial per week, labs, and the option of additional help. Almost all the staff and students are Asian or white males. Fifteen percent of the students are female, and the Māori and Pasifika cohort is significantly below the university average. Whilst the course is designed for school leavers only 40% of the cohort are school leavers. Others have had gap years, have changed profession, or are giving engineering a second go.
An identified challenge in both courses has been that the content is viewed by some (students and staff) as ‘soft-skills’ and therefore is less valued than other courses. Conversely, an identified benefit is that neither course is a pre-requisite for any other courses, so changes to content and delivery can be made more easily.
Elf’s main goal in these two courses is to “get the students excited about engineering and the topics around computer science so they can move from more basic ideas to complicated knowledge.” He wants to help students connect their learning about the broader aspects of engineering to the more technical ‘hard skills’ elements. He is also motivated to improve the effectiveness of his teaching and enhance the enjoyment and learning of the students.
Elf incorporates a range of innovative practices in his teaching. The three discussed here are: the way lectures are structured and supported by video content; the ways content is made relevant; and the communication strategies used to support students.
Elf structures his lectures into two blocks of time (18 and 12 minutes), each followed by review questions (focussed on core, advanced, and extension content) and a short video clip. Shorter blocks of time keep students’ attention and the review questions help them to engage with key content. A follow-up 4-minute video is made condensing key ideas from each lecture. Videos may include external content (e.g. YouTube) and the lecturer drawing and narrating as they explain concepts, misconceptions and discuss any problems or ideas not raised in class. Other videos are made to introduce concepts students will meet in labs. The purpose of lectures and labs is to explore the same content in different ways, while the purpose of the tutorials is to connect the material between the two courses and explore those connections.
Elf also incorporates real-world events to help students understand the technical, ethical, and privacy issues of the work of engineers. The learning specific to engineering contexts is then relatable, accessible, and interesting for the students. Using timely and relevant cases requires a commitment to updating and adapting course materials, rather than relying on the same material each time the courses run.
A range of communication mechanisms are employed to keep students connected and engaged in their learning. As well as Blackboard, class Facebook pages are used to share new resources and provide reminders for upcoming learning and assessments. Elf also taps into a School-wide student pastoral support system. A pastoral support team monitors when students are failing, gets in touch and has a chat about what is happening and what support is needed. In addition to the standard teaching and course evaluations, the School also undertakes a further survey to analyse how well students’ learning expectations were met. Student feedback has resulted in changes to content and delivery.
Course evaluations have improved indicating increased student satisfaction with the courses. Lecture attendance has improved, and students are more engaged. They access the video content and contribute in labs and tutorials.
The way Elf structures his lectures reflects ideas about attention span and learning where breaks every 10-15 minutes help learners to refocus and stay engaged. In a similar way, the short video clips provide targeted chunks of content in a different medium, that students can use for revision and further learning. Authenticity by providing ‘real world’ examples and connections is underpinned by constructivist learning approaches, as is the concern with communication and the social elements of learning and teaching.
Elf is motivated to teach in ways that capture his students, his colleagues, and his own attention. The three strategies described in this case study ensure students are supported academically and socially, thus enhancing their engagement and learning.
This case study was written as part of the Innovative Pedagogies research project.