Pedagogical activity

My general teaching philosophy rely on the assumptions that classical lecture should be used as a bonus and a motivating communication between a teacher and a student. To support this workflow and basically eliminating so called classical lecture component, a peer instruction methodology can be applied. For that, integrated course design is used in all my main subjects where I’m responsible for the full course delivery (including theory/lectures and practice/homework). The concept of the peer instruction is to engage students during various activities throughout the class (including both – contact hours, as well as e-learning). Students should apply the core concepts that they have read/studied prior to the class and they also should be able to explain those concepts to their fellow students. Collaboration is a key workflow that students face when they step into real world. And course itself should develop various skills in its learners. Therefore I do use various assessment methods throughout the course life-cycle, bringing each and every student into the learning process from the very beginning. It is just the opposite of so called common lectures where students should ask informal questions during a lecture. The downside is that only couple of students are activated who are highly motivated. To support peer instruction philosophy, I have design my courses as e-learning courses, where students are not just getting learning materials but they have to be involved in the learning process topic by topic. A general design about my main courses is given in the following image.

From the image above, various learning activities are involved during the course. Each student is able to study in his/her own pace but learning outcomes are integrated with continuous feedback/assessment components and/or activities. An example of this is that each student should be able to ask constructive questions about course main topics after each and every module (module equals to subtopic) as well as answer to other student’s question. Questions/answers are evaluated by the teacher. Other types of homework that is given to student, should be finished correctly enabling her/him to learn from her/his mistakes. The goal of the methodology, I’m using, is to engage students and develop their various skills throughout the course, including: being able to ask constructive questions (forum), develop: (a) the courage to support/answer fellow student’s question (forums); (b) problem solving skills (real world example as an assessment); (c) writing skills (essay) and (d) group work/collaboration/presentation skills (project). Each of those learning/studying component and therefore student’s personal workflow is actively supported by myself as a teacher. It is not about answering to all of the forum posts, but about supporting students that they do not feel alone in the course. I have been using such methodologies especially with more recent subjects (BIM subjects, water pipelines and modelling) and always seeing an improvement of understanding the problems through student’s feedback. It is important that a teacher gathers student’s feedback and take that into account as smoothly as possible to develop the course further.

One key component while developing course materials is that students are different and therefore I prepare learning materials for various types of students. In general it means that I duplicate course materials in various formats. For example giving a module’s theory and/or practical component as a full step-by-step text material but also as a video (edited, so that unnecessary pauses/mistakes are removed). As such, students can choose which material is more suitable for them. Statistically (while asking student’s feedback at the end of course) I get very supportive feedback for my methods. Altogether I can conclude that about 70% of students prefer video based learning material and 30% step-by-step text materials. Of course both materials can be also used at different time moments. But it clearly states that I can’t remove one or the other from my course materials (for example leaving only video based learning materials).

My goal during a course is to develop various skills. As mentioned before I encourage students to ask questions what moved them or confused during self-learning process (module by module basis). Because those components can be easily made as must dos during a learning process and evaluated against question’s / answer’s constructiveness, I have seen that quite many students are not able to ask questions about learning subject. On the other side, this is an important aspect to know and learn, because real life is expecting that people are active and collaborative. So, this brings us back to a so called classical lecture, where couple of people are engaged and keen on to ask questions because they can do it. But we can’t evenly say about other people (who do not ask questions) that they do not want to ask. Perhaps they need to be taught through a learning process itself to ask questions. A successful e-learning can enhance the development of such skills.

During a course delivery (contact hours, e-learning) I’m passionate to offer modern ways of learning. Therefore I incorporate tools that are used by real life practitioners as well. All those tricks and tips do add value into learning process, because of my own learning experience. For a general e-learning and course delivery platform I use well known Moodle platform. Moodle as a massive open online course (MOOC) platform has great and modern tools and possibilities to engage students during their participation. While for theoretical background I’m mostly using peer instruction method (students should actively participate, like asking questions and giving answers to others, fellow students). Based on the type of questions that dominate in forums I can make conclusion in where I should concentrate more during a contact hour. From practical side I use different methods to help building up student’s ability to apply her/his understandings. Those include problem solving tasks in form of online tests as well as presenting results through industry standard tools as homework. All those exercises are individually evaluated and personal feedback given with suggestions to accomplish learning goals. If some mistakes are found, student can learn from her/his mistakes or comments/suggestions and resubmit the homework. All those individual and collaborative (participating in forums) skills are connected into group based project study that comes from the real life. In here, students practice working in teams as well as finding answers together as a team, sharing responsibilities.

My general course planning is built on top of integrated course design methodology. This methodology should connect learning goals, teaching and learning activities as well as feedback and assessment into one ecosystem where those components relate with each other. The question that comes up into my mind when designing a course can be asked like so, “What could be ‘that thing’ that I hope students have learned from my course that is still there and has been a great value for their career, even after several years later from the course ending?” Of course the answer lies behind learning goals and what are the methods to achieve those goals. If we can take the real world example that is current need or focus in work sector today and build our course around it, finding all the sub-tasks (goals) that are needed to achieve the major goal – we help to remember and most importantly connect the university subject with real things and industry needs.

An example of this is the most recent course that I have developed those principles in mind – BIM for infrastructure (InfraBIM) basics. I have taken a real world example in where BIM process is explained, and applied to help design teams to stay connected, find problems in the design as early as possible (before the real construction starts) and keep the construction itself in schedule or see possible resource deficiencies on-time. To fulfill the major goal, various sub goals should be successfully learned/studied.

During the course my goal is to keep an eye on how students’ progress and if they are struggling somewhere in between, helping them to get on track and encourage ask questions from where they get stuck. After the course I’m also keen on doing learning analytics about my course participants. My goal here is to understand the behavior of different student groups (for example students who come from study programs vs students who are participating through open university program). Common conclusions can be used to avoid typical issues next semester. For example, it is clear that distant learners who do not have a possibility to get support directly from contact hour, can get in trouble because they do need some more active hours with direct guidance. To avoid such cases in the future, contact hours for distant learners should be especially gathered to the beginning of semester and not splitted or scattered throughout the semester. Such conclusions are coming from learning analytics and seeing the clear indicator that day-time students (possibility to participate in contact hours more often) can start the learning process quicker. I have analysed two main BIM subjects in where I’m responsible. Please note that both courses are open BIM courses and more information (including the layout and content of the course) can be easily seen once clicked on the course webpage.

Example 1: Building information modelling basics (BIM I)

General information about the course:

  • 6 EAP (16 weeks)
  • Concentrates onto vertical BIM side (buildings)
  • Covers cycles of BIM like preliminary design, energy analysis, design, construction (4D/5D), collaboration
  • Products used, include: Trimble SketchUp, Autodesk FormIt, Autodesk Revit, Autodesk Navisworks, Tekla BIMsight
  • Assessment/homework: Self-assessment tests (graded), preliminary house project (100-150 m²), bonus assessments based on course videos, project in Autodesk Revit (5000 m²/level)

Course starts with a general introduction and introductory lectures. Because course is designed as an e-learning course, most of the work during semester is with peer instruction, where a teacher is giving continuous feedback individually as well as with general forum/video posts to the course participants. Additional contact hours are based on questions/topics where students need more help. Course project is individual and reflects the knowledge from course sub-topics. Bonus assessments can give special points before the course completion. Course ends with summarized contact hour. Based on students continuous activity recordings and feedback, course analytics is carried out. Some statistics is given in the sub-section. In Spring 2017 the course belonged to elective courses list but the level of interest was moderately positive (total number of registrants: 56 students).

Course learning analytics based on two different study groups (open university, study program):

Open university students

 

23%
23% students were attending through open university (high course visibility to outside).
69%
69% open university registrants did the first assessment test (drop rate caused by work duties?).
69%
Let’s get into “serious” BIM area. Modelling starts. Good to see that no additional drop out when compared with those, who started the course.
46%
46% from all open university registrants finished the course successfully (generally high drop rate caused from other everyday duties).

Study program students

 

77%
Generally high interest rate.
93%
93% from study program students did the first assessment test (low drop out rate after introductory lectures).
93%
Really good to see that among study program students there are no additional drop out when serious modelling starts.
72%
72% from all study program students finished the course successfully (some drop out was expected due to high amount of homework and moderate level project study).

It is also interesting to analyse how keen different learner groups are doing “extra work” or getting bonus points. The following graph shows moderate difference among open university (blue) and full time (grey) students.

On horizontal axes there is the number of bonus works (max 8) and on vertical axes, how many students from registered students were doing how many bonus works (given as a percentage). Seems that those who are coming through open university are also more passionate to learn/practice more. This is a good result that shows a positive side of continuous learning ambition and e-learning can enhance or support such shift in self-improvement pretty well.

Feedback for the course given anonymously  (Sutdy Information System, Moodle course feedback):

Study Information System, spring 2016

The following graph shows average marks for the questions answered by students in Spring 2016 (in scale 1 – 5, where 5  is excellent)

The list of questions is:

  1. The methods (teaching methods and aids) used were relevant
  2. The lecturer was well-disposed (polite, kind, attentive, etc.) towards the students
  3. I found the organisation of the subject easy to comprehend
  4. The study materials were well-suited for acquiring the subject
  5. Stationary study took place according to schedule
  6. The volume of independent work was reasonable
  7. The lecturer made sure the students were not cheating
  8. The evaluation was based on the listed evaluation criteria*
  9. Completing the course resulted in the learning outcomes* presented in the course
  10. description for me
  11. All in all, I was satisfied with the lecturer

There is some correlation in between Q.4 and Q.6. We can see that once you have to learn by yourself, then the amount of learning materials is very important. Generally the mark “4” is not bad, but a clear indicator for the teacher that some improvement can be made. Q.4 is tied with Q.6 because the amount of independent work really depends on how you can develop yours skills and manage with the amount of homework. As an improvement or action plan for those a bit lower evaluation points, course materials are added and re-organized to improve the content delivery. Additional feedback can be found from Appendix A.

Example 2: BIM for infrastructure (InfraBIM) basics

General information about the course:

  • 6 EAP (16 weeks)
  • Concentrates onto horizontal BIM side (infrastructure, roads, etc.)
  • Covers cycles of BIM like preliminary design, cost calculations for preliminary design alternatives, design, virtual design and construction (4D/5D), collaboration
  • Products used, include: Autodesk InfraWorks, AutoCAD Civil 3D, AutoCAD Raster Design, Autodesk Navisworks, Autodesk 3ds Max, Viasys VDC Modeler, Viasys VDC Explorer, Autodwesk Stingray
  • Assessment/homework: Active participation in course fourms (graded), self-assessment tests (graded), assessments for each BIM cycle (uploaded project files, individual feedback from teacher, design area of 2 km²), essay based on BIM for infrastructure research articles, full BIM Manager type of project (working in groups, collaboration, multi-discipline model)

Course starts with a general introduction and introductory lectures. Because course is designed as an e-learning course, most of the work during semester is with peer instruction, where a teacher is giving continuous feedback individually as well as with general forum/video posts to the course participants. Course layout is designed so that each main module expects student’s active participation in forum where she/he should ask constructive questions in where some additional explanation is needed. Also they need to answer to their fellow student’s questions. Forum participation is graded against participation constructiveness. Each student should participate to be able to move forward in the course. Each module has its own self-assessment test. Additional contact hours are based on questions/topics where students need more help. Individual assessments are built upon student’s home area data. They start from preliminary design (using tools that enable grab base model data from any location digitally) and master that same data through various BIM cycles to get the general but practical idea about BIM workflows. Course ends with a project study, where each group (2 students in a group) play through a BIM Manager’s (or Client) role in where they have to master from sub-discipline model data a full BIM for infrastructure model, carrying out various analysis (like clash detection, 4D/5D analysis) and sending the finalized project for approval through model based commenting/collaboration workflows. Based on students continuous activity recordings and feedback, course analytics is carried out. Some statistics is given in the sub-section. In Spring 2017 the course was carried out as a full 16 weeks course in TTK UAS in where the course was compulsory for full time and distant learning students. Statistics is based on those two different groups (total number of registrants: 38 students).

Course learning analytics based on two different study groups (distance learning, full time):

Distance learning students

 

50%
Course participation was even split between full time and distance learning groups.
74%
74% distance learning registrants did the first assessment test (drop rate caused by the fact that introductory lectures are too splitted from each other, easy to forget the course participation in terms of peer instruction?).
53%
Additional dropout. 53% from distance learning registrants continued after the first assessment with a InfraWorks assessment (high drop rate caused by the fact that you need to be able to work independently, although having a possibility ask help through e-learning tools?).
42%
42% from all distant learning registrants finished the course successfully (generally high drop rate caused from other everyday duties).

Full time students

 

50%
Course statistics gets interesting. Let’s see how full time student differs from distant learner student?
95%
High participation level continues after registration. That high motivation rate is currently assigned to more often face-to-face options (weekly basis) for full time students.
95%
Serious modelling starts. Good to see that first modelling assessment doesn’t introduce additional drop out.
79%
Full time students are much more motivated to finish the course. Whilst most of the distance learners do have day job and therefore the concentration fades during the semester.

This course included a major discussion component (graded) in where all students were asked to participate and add at least one constructive question about module’s topic and answer to other, fellow student’s question/comment before they were able to move forward in the course. The following graph shows quite an even split in terms of distance learners (blue) and full time (grey) students.

On horizontal axes there are course core subtopics, in the following order: (1) from preliminary design to detailed design; (2) intelligent planning; (3) virtual design and construction; (4) visualization and (5) model-based collaboration. Vertical axes shows the number of students (as a percentage from registered students) who asked and answered constructively in aforementioned subtopic. Topic (3) and (4) seems to be much more tougher than others, or students are late to get to the final project assignment and somehow loose interest to ask meaningful questions. On the contrary the topic (5) had higher rates. This was partly due to an assignment concentric question/answer, and was not simply based on reading or watching module’s content. So, practical work with discussion enabled.

What is interesting to note is the fact that approximately 50% of all students are eager, willing or simply saying, – able to ask constructive questions. That is something to worry about, because in the class room we usually see only couple of students who are asking, and assuming that other students simply do not have or are too shy to ask. But we should worry if, based on current studies, they are not able to ask questions at all. This is a real need when students go to work, and should be able to ask questions. But if they can’t? Through a compulsory question/answer assessments (50% in that terms is a good number anyway when compared with couple of students from the lecture room) we should be able to get more people involved and help to prepare more students for the real professional work-life. Student feedback can be found from Appendix A.

I have supervised one PhD student to successful completion and currently having two PhD students who plan to defend his thesis in late 2017 and in 2020 spring semester. My goal during a supervision is to see that student is motivated to work on with a given subject. It is vital that understanding about the problem that she/he tries to solve has clear boundaries and it is supported by the research community. As such a successful problem solving starts from the investigations what has been carried out before, in other words from the state of the art literature review. Once that step is secured, and problem itself that student is trying to focus on, is unique – the process of finding and applying suitable solution methodology starts. In here it is important that student presents her/his findings publicly to develop presentation skills and getting feedback and encouragement that she/he is on right track. During a final stage of studies I see quite problematic that fine tuning of the thesis is less appreciated by the applicant. Somewhat understood but not accepted, because detailing and fine tuning plays important role what differentiates good work from superior piece of work. Therefore a supervisor should pay attention at that final time period very carefully and motivate students to keep going after several small but important revisions/additions. While supervising PhD students, my goal is to make the work internationally visible. Therefore I’m trying to find opponents that do have a great experience in the same topic area and can add value or constructive comments to the work itself.

 

About the author: Raido Puust