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Engineering Conferences - An Innovative Course for Master Students in Engineering

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A course called "Engineering Conferences" is presented that the authors have developed and installed as a mandatory part of the curriculum in Master programs for engineering students. The idea is to go beyond teaching the standards of academic writing and skills for working with scientific publications. By using a learner-centered approach, we get the students engaged in typical activities around an active attendance of a real conference. They write a paper complying with common academic standards, submit the paper and review submissions of their fellow students. Students also produce a poster and have to defend it in a poster session held publicly on campus. In this article, we present our rationale to develop the course and our results from the first semester teaching this course. This includes the presentation of useful resources for teaching and organizing scientific publishing as well as our reflected learning experience regarding the student's understanding of significance for scientific publishing.
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Engineering Conferences -
An Innovative Course for Master Students in Engineering
Matthias Neef, Thomas Zielke, Claudia Fussenecker
Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences, Germany, matthias.neef@hs-duesseldorf.de
ABSTRACT
A course called "Engineering Conferences" is presented that the authors have developed and installed as a
mandatory part of the curriculum in Master programs for engineering students. The idea is to go beyond
teaching the standards of academic writing and skills for working with scientific publications. By using a
learner-centered approach, we get the students engaged in typical activities around an active attendance of
a real conference. They write a paper complying with common academic standards, submit the paper and
review submissions of their fellow students. Students also produce a poster and have to defend it in a
poster session held publicly on campus. In this article, we present our rationale to develop the course and
our results from the first semester teaching this course. This includes the presentation of useful resources
for teaching and organizing scientific publishing as well as our reflected learning experience regarding the
student’s understanding of significance for scientific publishing.
Keywords - active learning, challenge based learning, liminal space
I INTRODUCTION & CONTEXT
When developing the curricula for three new master courses in engineering it was decided to include an
introduction of students to publication of research in general and particularly to the world of engineering
conferences. It was clear from the beginning, that this course should go beyond the kind of skill training
which deals with limited aspects of the publication process in a classroom and leaves out the fun part: the
rewarding conference event. With this in mind, the new course was called "Engineering Conferences". On
the way to a suitable course concept, the following limitations had to be taken into account: Students
admitted to the master course are a heterogeneous group with respect to their Bachelor degrees, their
nationalities and their experience with scientific research. Furthermore, resources of the faculty are
limited, i.e. an annual real conference with an open call for papers cannot be organized and a participation
in an existing conference can neither be guaranteed nor sponsored for every student.
From these initial considerations, we set out on five different routes to explore the field of teaching and
learning with respect to publication of research and developing scientific communication skills.
Route #1: Undergraduate conference concepts and research journals
The opportunity for publication of research at an undergraduate level exists for a long time, especially in
English speaking countries. The National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) has been
running in the United States of America since 1987 and has been copied by numerous other countries, such
as the British Conference on Undergraduate Research (BCUR). The latter is held annually since 2011 and
has been surveyed in a study among 90 student participants across three years by (Walkington et al. 2016).
In the same way, quality controlled publication of research is possible for students by submitting their work
to undergraduate research journals, which are also available from institutional to international levels. These
approaches have at least four features in common, namely: The organization and review-process is similar
to professional conferences and journals, the orientation is multi-disciplinary, the event or process is fully
run by students and the latter act on a voluntary basis as author and/or organizer.
The last point implies a natural selection process, which distinguishes the participants from the average
student in an undergraduate course, where not everybody can be excellent or motivated by good example.
However, with our course, we aim for no less than a better communication culture between professionals
across disciplines and social divides. To achieve this, we expose all our master students to the basic
standards of peer-reviewed research and provide the opportunity to present their own work on a conference-
like level.
Route #2: Existing publishing resources and related courses for undergraduate students
At an institutional level, various approaches to learn and train the written and oral presentation of scientific
work can be found. Commonly, the required skills of students are developed throughout continuous
assignments to write lab reports, project documentations and, finally, the Bachelor thesis. Ideally, the
student develops his own style and skills with respect to authorship by learning from various staff members,
but the learning process itself and its result or success is rarely made explicit or guided. Exceptions presented
by those with disciplinary knowledge are both available and inspiring, see e.g. (Dirrigl & Noe 2014).
However, ambitious and valuable courses like “Writing your thesis” or “Presentations for engineers” are
often offered on a voluntary basis and outside the faculty, see e.g. (Leydens & Olds 2007, Neilson 2013).
This can convey misleading messages with respect to developing a self-confident authorship: "Writing is
only an add-on for the best" (they usually book the course first) and/or "I am doing this only to get rid of
my defects, but it has nothing to do with my professional development as an engineer". This situation has
been observed and evaluated by (Durfee et al. 2011), who consequently developed a writing-enriched
curriculum from within the faculty at the University of Minnesota.
For the development of our own approach, we argue that the emergence of scientific communication skills
should not only be an explicit and integral part of the curriculum but must be developed as a competence
from within the faculty.
Route #3: Relation of (disciplinary) research and teaching in general and with respect to
undergraduate education
While research and teaching have at least co-existed if not cross-fertilized each other for centuries, it has
been suggested and surveyed that there is little statistical evidence for a correlation between the two (Hattie
& Marsh 1996). The perception of the relationship between research and teaching is dependent on the
current orientation of the institution(s) as well as the history of universities and is thus changing with time
(Brew 2006). It can therefore be argued, that the increased awareness for competences based learning
outcomes in the development of curricula, as opposed to technical knowledge production, has spread the
idea to design research-oriented undergraduate courses, see e.g. (Healey et al. 2014) or instruction despite
earlier perceptions of the relation of research and teaching. The move is both not new and natural: While
looking for more complex, interdisciplinary challenges, which can be dealt with by groups or students and
which are at least partly related to their field of study, teachers and students may find themselves simulating
if not carrying out research. While the value and the judgement of research quality in general is currently
challenged by governmental influence to develop high-level research in selected universities, see Jenkins &
Healey 2010), it may be helpful to remember the medieval meaning of the word “research”. It remains the
act to “go about seeking”, see (Merriam Webster Inc., n.d.), and there is no shortcut for students from being
involved in this activity to become self-reliant learners. By the latest, students gain some sort of this
experience during their Bachelor thesis, which therefore can be regarded as research in their field of study
regardless of quality and outcome. In a nutshell, research is learning, and learning is research and should
be supported by teaching.
We therefore regard the Bachelor thesis of each student as an existing piece of research and take it as a
starting point for our course module on scientific publishing. According to (Healey & Jenkins 2009), our
concept follows a research-based approach. This means it is more focused on the research process rather
than on the research content which has already been dealt with during the thesis and it addresses students
as participants rather than an audience.
Route #4: Active learning in engineering education
From the above paragraphs it can be concluded, that personal engagement in research is an activity allowing
students and university staff to meet as learners. However, active learning in higher education can appear in
a lot of different forms other than carrying out research and has seen a strong increase in related publications
since the turn of the millennium (Lima et al. 2017). Consequently, the number of available tools and
resources is vast, calling for guides which map and/or navigate through current best practice, see e.g. Eddy
et al. 2015). Some of the concepts are often mentioned in the same breath as active learning such as the
flipped classroom, problem or project based learning (PBL). The appreciation of active learning is
influenced by the personal learning biography as well as by what we currently know about how learning
works in general. A sketch of the philosophical and pedagogical underpinnings of active learning in
engineering education is drawn by (Christie & de Graaff 2016) while others have delivered ample proof for
the effectiveness of active learning, see e.g. (Prince 2004).
For our own course, the route was set by the idea: Participation in an engineering conference requires that
the author actively prepares, revises and presents her/his paper or poster. When implementing this as a goal
for a master course, the publication process becomes a project with the author as the manager of her/his
success, thus placing the responsibility for the associated learning experience into the hand of the student.
Despite the overall PBL approach, the supporting course units are also suitable for group exercises and other
interactive learning elements.
Route #5: The transition phase - from institutionalized learning to learning on the job
While higher education should generally equip students for their future career, it is particularly apparent for
most of those enrolled in a master course that “real life” will start soon. This is no reason for students and
teachers to become sentimental, but fertile ground for enhanced learning experiences.
First of all, the way of learning changes anyway: After university, life-long learning becomes much more
informal and self-reliant - as it was before school enrollment. The alumna/alumnus will have to change from
the consumer of packaged learning goods to the hunter for life-sustaining nutrition, as experience and
education cannot be directly equated to each other(Dewey 1938). So why not help students before leaving
university to become self-learners (again)?
Secondly, advancing into new and open terrain may look like trouble ahead but is often the threshold to new
advances in learning. This is well described by (Meyer & Land 2005) with the threshold concept of learning,
which can ultimately “lead not only to transformed thought but to a transfiguration of identity and adoption
of an extended discourse”. This transformation can be stimulated by the creation of liminal spaces.
(Walkington et al. 2016) have shown that undergraduate research conferences are perfect opportunities to
open such spaces, helping students to reformulate their taken-for-granted frames of meaning by engaging
in critical reflection, through a process of dialogue with others. Such dialogue is a central element of
transactional communication.
Finally, this underlines that advances in learning are often related to advances in communication skills,
leading to changes in the perception of identity. This is most obvious in the development phase of a child
while acquiring the ability to speak but equally valid for other opportunities where the capability to
appropriately express oneself is expanded.
This justifies the preparation of the following challenges for the master students:
1. Implement a course design different to the classical concept of lecture, exercise, lab testing or
project etc. The feeling, not to know what to expect, and the experience that engineering-specific
knowledge is not in the focus pushes students beyond their comfort zone (opens liminal space for
new learning experiences).
2. Work with language in new forms: Let students explore the language of the scientific community.
Use English as a means of instruction (EMI) with non-native speakers and as the standard in
international scientific communication. Expose students to the structure and form of scientific
discourse. Introduce them to new tools and means to express her/himself.
3. Bestow self-authorship upon the learner (facilitates transactional communication for the
development of personal and social judgement and responses)
II COURSE CONCEPT & CONTENT
While preparing for the accreditation of three new master courses, the faculty decided to give the writing
and presentation part of the final thesis more emphasis. The module we developed accordingly is designed
for 30 master students per semester, while the students are free to enroll to the mandatory course in any of
their regular three semesters. Participants are students of a medium sized engineering faculty of a University
of Applied Sciences in Germany. Since two of the degree courses involved are international programs, we
have a share of overseas students, English as a means of instruction (EMI) is set. Six credits can be earned
according to the European Credit Transfer Scheme (ECTS). All facts and figures are summarized in Table
1.
With our concept, we aim to address at least some of the seven high-impact educational practices identified
by (Kuh 2008). Most obviously, our course meets the need for writing intensive courses, but also underline
the value of undergraduate research and includes collaborative assignments. The resulting learning
outcomes and the related challenge-based learning opportunities in alignment with the background outlined
in the introduction are presented in Table 2. They do not in itself excel beyond state-
of-the art courses in academic writing or scientific publishing. However, the simple approach towards
achieving those aims is turned into the following project: You have already earned your first credits with
research (bachelor thesis), now prepare to communicate your findings to your peers in the scientific
community and go public. Your admission ticket is a research paper and you will be rewarded for your
poster (see Figure 1). This cannot be better accomplished than by preparing for an engineering conference.
Ideally this would be an exercise involving a real conference, as described by (Watkins et al. 2014), for
example. For obvious practical reasons, we opted for a simulation of an engineering conference which
exhibits all elements of scientific publishing in a timely order. In more detail, this concept is presented as
Table 1: Course details - facts and figures
Module Name
Engineering Conferences
Master Courses
Mechanical Engineering, Simulation and Experimental Technology, International
Business Engineering (3 semester)
Module type
Mandatory
Credits
6 ECTS
Language
Language: EMI (English as a means of instruction)
Exam elements
paper, two paper reviews, poster presentation
Semester
first, second or third
participants
30 per semester
Figure 1: Reducing page numbers by two orders of magnitude: Evolution of key findings and the core
message from thesis to paper to poster
the basic working instructions for the participants:
1. take your bachelor thesis as a starting point
2. re-visit your thesis as research and relate it to research in the relevant scientific community
3. condense, compress and compile the main arguments of the thesis , consider related work, and
produce a paper
4. walk through a simulated publication process from abstract over paper submission and peer
review to poster presentation in the form of a mock-up conference
5. go public: course finishes with a poster presentation day held in public on campus
Following the storyline of an engineering conference, we identified several tasks to help the students in the
process of preparing their research for publication. This also means that we as the teachers are becoming
help agents in the publication project with the students managing their own project and learning experience
(directing towards a flipped-classroom concept). With reference to the introduction (Route #2), it should
Table 2: Engineering conferences- learning-outcomes and opportunities
Learning Outcomes,
directly related to scientific publishing
Related challenge-based learning
opportunities
After participation in the course, students are …
able to identify specific areas of research that are
related to their own work
able to recognize and apply useful tools related to
searching, accessing, archiving, publishing and
presenting scientific information
able to digest, evaluate and summarize their own
work as well as the work of others
able to make their own work accessible to their
peers
reasonably familiar with the world of engineering
conferences
How do I pose a problem precisely?
How do I raise and defend a hypothesis
supported by facts and arguments?
How do I present my main arguments
within limited boundaries (space, time,
level of interest and knowledge of
peers)?
How do I relate my work to the work of
others?
How do I excel in a larger group?
be highlighted again that we are able to approach the students as researchers and as experts with disciplinary
knowledge in engineering on a peer-to-peer level and not solely as instructors for communication skills. It
should be noted, however, that at the same time we remain the examination board, which naturally limits
the level of student-teacher proximity and which is a distinctive disadvantage over the “real” conference
experience.
Each of the tasks on the road to complete a paper and a poster comprises an introduction by the lecturer,
followed by one or more exercises (see Table 4). This can be exercises in class or additional homework to
be prepared for the next sessions. The homework exercises deal with aspects directly related to the
preparation and emergence of the final paper serving as supportive suggestions of how the compilation of
the paper can be tackled in a useful order. Special care was directed at the design of group work exercises:
Students develop content and gain learning experience ,with the lecturer standing aside serving as moderator
(see exercises in bold face of column 3 in Table 4). As an example for these active learning exercise, the
course starts with an “elevator talk” (Annesley 2010): Each student has a few minutes time for preparation
and then has to explain the topic of her/his bachelor thesis to another student within two
Table 4: Course Outline: Tasks and Exercises
Task
Tasks
Schedule
1
Orientation:
The shape of science
How to find a scientific paper
Week 1
2
Comprehension:
Reading, understanding and
evaluating a scientific paper
Week 2
3
State-of-the-art survey:
Finding related work and peers
Week 3-4
4
Paper compilation:
Developing a thread and structure
Week 5
5
Paper layout / references:
Referencing and reference styles
Organizing a bibliography and
referencing tools
Week 6
6
Paper layout / style:
Editing and publishing tools
Paper style guide and template
Week 7-8
Exam element: paper submitted (Week 8)
7
Peer-review:
Quality control and improvement
Week 9
Exam element: two reviews conducted (Week 10)
8
Poster presentation:
Designing a scientific poster
Week
10-14
Exam element: poster presentation day (in public, Week 15)
minutes. This exercise is repeated before the students have a chance to reflect their experience. For most of
them, it is the first time taking about their thesis topic in English in a very limited amount of time with the
clear aim to convey a message (pushed beyond comfort zone).
Before the students are asked to re-visit the content of their bachelor thesis, we make sure that they spend
a considerable amount of time to orient oneself in the scientific community and to identify and digest related
work of others. In many cases this is a new experience for the student: Her/his bachelor thesis may include
references to methods described in textbooks or technical articles, but a deep survey of latest international
scientific efforts in her/his field of work were not part of the task given to her/him when starting the thesis
(for comments on this situation see the conclusions).
As can be seen form Table 4, a lot of emphasis of the first half of the course is directed at context and content
before some formal aspects of the publication process are introduced. Students are repeatedly encouraged
to chew on the summary, main results and thread of their thesis, e.g. by oral short presentation, mindmap of
the important figures etc., before molding everything into a given (real) paper template.
To model the paper submission and review process, we use the free web-based conference management
system EasyChair (easychair.org), which allows us to set deadlines, upload papers, define roles such as
authors, reviewers and chairs, organize reviews etc. This is not only easy to use for teachers and students
but also a real conference standard. After the paper submission, students are requested to conduct two
reviews of their peers in class. This includes filling out a review form, which requires to state a reason for
each rating and also the upload of the reviewed paper with the reviewer’s annotations. If nothing else, the
latter is an important and visual verification of the engagement of the reviewer with the papers. In real life,
reviewers are volunteers, highly motivated, and usually concerned about their scientific reputation. For the
student reviewers, we have not yet found an optimal incentive being both highly effective and practicable
for our course.
The last part of the course is dedicated to the preparation of the poster. The poster presentation day is the
final event of the course and takes place in the main entrance hall of the faculty building (see Figure 2).
While each student has to deliver a two-minutes keynote on his/her research topic, the others are free to
browse the final product of their peers or to answer questions of visiting faculty members and students. Both
poster and keynote are assessed on the spot by the lecturers resulting in the final grade for the course.
Figure 2: Impressions from the poster presentation day
III EXPERIENCE & REFLECTION
With the experience from the design and the completion of the first course semester we revisit to the routes
we went along in the introduction for reflection.
Adaptation of undergraduate conference concept
We succeeded in organising and applying the conference concept in the form of a paper submission and
poster presentation as a compulsory master course module for 30 students in an engineering master’s degree.
The setting provided both an underlying story for the project of producing a research publication as well as
an open space to present the results outside the classroom. During the course, we observed a significant
increase of activity among both faculty staff and students in social networks for researchers and scientists.
This positive side effect of the course was boosted by the final event of the poster presentations which
vividly enhanced scientific and informal exchange within the home faculty and its neighbours. It now stands
as one of the rare events in the curriculum where the result of learning is proudly made visible outside the
classroom. Students were very positive about this culminating event, providing personal satisfaction and
success beyond good exam results, despite the effort required to earn credits (see Figure 3).
However, we are well aware of the limitations of our mock-up concept the real conference remains the
ultimate experience: Voluntary participation and a rigorous selection process are key drivers to self-
motivation and “one-off” experience. Additionally, the conference location outside the home institution is
virtually promoting the step beyond a threshold out into the open and unknown, yet protected learning space
filled with enthusiastic peers.
Appreciation of scientific writing resources
While preparing the material for the various tasks, we were both overwhelmed and positively stimulated by
the vast resources available on scientific writing practices and research communication. As an example, we
explicitly want to highlight two sources that have already appeared to be useful to a large community:
Firstly, the survival guide on paper writing by (Holst 2015), salted with worldly-wise glimpses behind the
scene and peppered with sketches by Jorge Cham, the maker of PhDcomics.com. Secondly, the compilation
of the reference style required by the American Psychological Association (APA), provided by (University
of Queensland Library 2013). It provides a precise answer, including examples, to the question of how to
cite virtually anything. For those curious and interested in more, we list a number of keywords, loosely
arranged in the order of increased caution required when employed in class: DOI.org, IMRaD-Style, JabRef,
Shape of Science, ResearchGate, PhDcomics, SciGen, SciHub.
Figure 3: Creativity in Engineering ("Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham /www.phdcomics.com)
It becomes clear from the above paragraph that we as teachers, while preparing the course, had naturally
embarked on the course for ourselves which we claimed as a task for the faculty (as opposed to centralized
institutions) in the introduction, namely to develop the emergence of scientific communication skills. We
had become inspired enthusiastic learners, fuelling each other with new ideas, searching for more.
Agglomeration of research, learning and teaching
Eventually, we found ourselves doing research in teaching methods and scientific communication, resulting
in a recursive learning research teaching experience. How did this work out for our students?
When working on the state-of-the art, several students openly expressed, what we had expected from
browsing their thesis reference list: “Had I known this before …” When compiling a thesis, searching for
similar work of others is only one aspect of research, which may in some cases be skipped altogether
due to time constraints and the many other new things to tackle (understanding of the problem, application
of tools, writing the longest peace of text ever produced so far etc.). This still means the student can obtain
a good result in solving the engineering project set out before her/him and why should she/he not repeat (i.e.
research) the same thing for the hundredth time again in order to get some exercise? However, not being
able to receive the impulses of others and to reflect one’s own results back to those findings strips the student
of a vital skill in terms of communication with their peers. This was most openly revealed by one student
who, after several iterations of looking for corresponding work in her field, wanted to give up: “I do not
find anything”. This could only mean two things: She was still not in the position to apply appropriate
criteria to her search or her thesis was a strong candidate for the Nobel Prize. We therefore realized, that
students do not naturally accept their role as researcher despite its closeness to being a learner.
The student’s role as a researcher surfaced again when we became aware that many students initially viewed
the course as having little to do with their future job in industry. This can partly be blamed on the way we
introduced the course, where we tried to tell how great it was to visit a real conference. This may have
produced some frustration as students realized that most of them would probably never visit a real
engineering conference. The question "Do I need research skills in working life?" (Murtonen et al. 2008)
has to be addressed early in the course. This we will definitely change in our next run, conveying the
message “you can do it” and trying to highlight how much enhanced communication is vital even for
engineers. What we cannot immediately chance is the effect of a widespread exam- and content-focussed
culture of learning, which is counteractive to the appreciation and positive experience of liminal space.
Application of active learning
From the beginning the students were pushed out into the open and exposed to active learning experiences
such as group activity and, overall, to master their publication process as their own project. However, some
sense of unease was noticed, whenever the results of a classroom session could not be measured in minutes
spent for the consumption of information, i.e. when the students were responsible for producing their own
learning outcome.
Not only the students had to grasp the changes in the learning process. Whenever free from transmitting
information from the front, it was a privilege to watch students in the process of building skills to overcome
barriers and to express oneself. The most prominent example of the development of self-authorship started
with the confession of a student, who was reluctant to revisit her bachelor thesis. It appeared she had been
at unease with the topic all along, being very glad that it was all over. We asked her about the topic and
together, in a short discussion, we tried to arrange in our minds what she had been doing as her thesis. Weeks
later, in a group exercise, she delivered the most precise outline of her thesis using a supportive sketch
explaining it all. The breakthrough was at hand, howsoever it had happened.
Anticipation of liminal space and life-long learning
We had thus witnessed at various occasions that troublesome knowledge led to transformed thought and
dialogue acted as a central element of transactional communication. This reassured us of our inspiration by
the work of others, outlined in the introduction: Such “magic moments” are likely to occur by opening the
liminal spaces, which small active learning elements can provide as well as exposure to a conference
situation. As the students are near crossing their next threshold when entering working life, we hope to have
served them to more readily accept the challenges ahead.
Additionally, we were able to share success (and failure) of our course development and implementation as
we were operating as a teaching team. This helped us to increase the variety of challenges for achieving the
same learning goals as well as to find different approaches to engage with the students. Not only because
Engineering Conferences was our first genuine team teaching experience, we ourselves had entered liminal
space and considerably stimulated our life-long learning adventure.
VII CONCLUSIONS & OUTLOOK
A master course module was designed, implemented, and tested with the goal to improve scientific
communication skills of engineering students. As the name “Engineering Conferences” suggests, training
is based around a mock-up conference, where students have to present the results of their bachelor thesis as
a poster. The combination of the following features distinguishes the course concept from similar
approaches:
1. It has a storyline (conference preparation) with a public finish (presentation day).
2. It engages the students as researchers, turning the publication of their thesis into a project.
3. It is mandatory for all master students of the faculty.
4. It is delivered by teachers/researchers from within the faculty,
i.e. from “engineering native speakers”.
5. It can easily be copied and integrated into any STEM curriculum.
For further development of the course, we still see ample room for extension of active learning methods.
On a more structural and strategic level, this could lead to placing full responsibility for the organisation of
the publication process into the hands of the students. This may require a change in the curriculum for a
two-step approach for the student first semester: participate only, second term: participate and facilitate.
In the future, the course could also serve as an active qualification and selection process for promotional
activities of the faculty aiming at an increase of the number of research publications. To start with, we are
working towards encouraging and sponsoring the best graduates of our course to participate in a real
(undergraduate) engineering conference: The next liminal space waiting to be explored is only a doorstep
away.
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BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
Mathias Neef serves as a professor for thermodynamics and power plant technology at the Faculty of
Mechanical and Process Engineering of the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf, Germany.
Thomas Zielke serves as a professor for information technology at the Faculty of Mechanical and Process
Engineering of the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf, Germany.
Claudia Fussenecker works as research staff for life cycle excellence at the Faculty of Mechanical and
Process Engineering of the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf, Germany.
... At the latest, students gain some sort of research experience during their bachelor thesis, which therefore can be regarded as research in their field of study -regardless of quality and outcome. In a nutshell, research is learning, and learning is research and should be supported by teaching [26]. ...
Article
– This article is on a university course called Engineering Conferences. It has been developed by the authors and installed as a mandatory part of the curriculum in three master’s degree programs for engineering students. The participants of the course are postgraduates with different nationalities, mostly German, and different technical backgrounds. They study Mechanical Engineering, Simulation and Experimental Technology, or International Business Engineering. The basic idea of the course concept goes far beyond simply teaching the standards of academic writing and skills for using scientific publications. By using a learnercentered approach, the students get engaged in typical activities around an active attendance of a real conference. Students learn to locate the field of their bachelor thesis or project report in the world of research communities, scientific journals and engineering conferences. They learn about conferences matching their bachelor/project topic. They write a paper complying with common academic standards, submit it to a mock-up conference, and review submissions of their fellow students. Students also produce a poster and have to defend it in a poster session held publicly on the campus. Engineering Conferences is a course on scientific communication and presentation that also aims at the development of other skills and competences needed in the world of modern engineering.
... At the latest, students gain some sort of research experience during their bachelor thesis, which therefore can be regarded as research in their field of study -regardless of quality and outcome. In a nutshell, research is learning, and learning is research and should be supported by teaching [26]. ...
Conference Paper
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This article is on a course called Engineering Conferences which the authors have developed and installed as a mandatory part of the curriculum in three master's degree programs for engineering students. The participants of the course are postgraduates with different nationalities, mostly German, and different technical backgrounds. They study Mechanical Engineering, Simulation and Experimental Technology, or International Business Engineering. The basic idea of the course concept goes far beyond simply teaching the standards of academic writing and skills for using scientific publications. By using a learner-centered approach, the students get engaged in typical activities around an active attendance of a real conference. Students learn to locate the field of their bachelor thesis or project report in the world of research communities, scientific journals and engineering conferences. They learn about conferences matching their bachelor/project topic. They write a paper complying with common academic standards, submit it to a mock-up conference, and review submissions of their fellow students. Students also produce a poster and have to defend it in a poster session held publicly on the campus. Engineering Conferences is a course on scientific communication and presentation that also aims at the development of other skills and competences needed in the world of modern engineering.
Article
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Teaching scientific writing in biology classes is challenging for both students and instructors. This article offers and reviews several useful 'toolkit' items that improve student writing. These include sentence and paper-length templates, funnelling and compartmentalisation, and preparing compendiums of corrections. In addition, students benefit from reviewing scientific figures and learning about the verbs used in scientific papers. The approaches and exercises presented in this paper empower students in their development of a personal writing style. Often, however, the best tools are those that students develop with each other, a method of tool building addressed in this article.
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New models of curriculum… should all… incorporate research-based study for undergraduates. (Ramsden 2008, pp. 10–11) By focusing on CBHE this publication, which was funded by the UK HEA, aims to help fill a major gap in our knowledge and understanding of the development of research-based curricula. Much current international debate concerns the form that research and scholarship should take in the CBHE sector. Most of these discussions have concentrated on the implications for staff/faculty being research active. In this publication we extend this discussion to how students in CBHE may be engaged in research and inquiry, how curricula may be designed to achieve this and what departmental, institutional and national strategies are needed to foster these developments. We have argued previously that: “All undergraduate students in all higher education institutions should experience learning through, and about, research and inquiry” (Healey and Jenkins 2009, p. 3). Here we explore how this argument may play out in the CBHE sector. CBHE takes many different forms in different countries, though commonly there are more part-time and adult students, a greater focus on professional and vocational subjects, a range of courses of varying lengths, and staff who are more focused on teaching than in university education and who have less autonomy on what they teach. Given this context we argue that a broader more rounded form of research and scholarship than is common in HE in general is needed for the CBHE sector, but one which may have implications for the rest of HE. We have deliberately set out to inform UK practices and policies by what is happening elsewhere in the world and to contribute to wider international HE debates about what are variously described as students as researchers, inquirers, partners, scholars, producers and change agents. To that end we have collected over 50 case studies of interesting practices from a wide range of disciplines, levels and institutions concerning the development of research-based curricula in CBHE, of which about 40% come from outside the UK, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States. The full set of case studies is available on the project website . Here we discuss selected case studies and put them into the wider context of developing research-based curricula in HE. We also include some case studies from the university sector which we believe, with adaption, may be transferable to the CBHE sector. In time we hope that many of these may be replaced by other college-based examples, as colleagues in the sector are encouraged by this publication, and others, to develop and share their interesting practices. HE is in a period of significant change and we are beginning to see some of the traditional distinctions and differences between CBHE and the rest of the HE sector break down. Hence this publication should be of interest not only to academic staff, senior managers and educational developers in CBHE, and to policy makers responsible for the sector, but also to those who hold similar roles in other higher education institutions (HEIs). Moreover, in advancing students’ scholarly learning, it also presents CBHE teachers with the opportunity to advance their own scholarly activities, often collaboratively with students.
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In this paper the authors draw on three sequential keynote addresses that they gave at Active Learning in Engineering Education (ALE) workshops in Copenhagen (2012), Caxias do Sol (2014) and San Sebastian (2015). Active Learning in Engineering Education is an informal international network of engineering educators dedicated to improving engineering education through active learning (http://www.ale-net.org/). The paper reiterates themes from those keynotes, namely, the philosophical and pedagogical underpinnings of Active Learning in Engineering Education, the scholarly questions that inspire engineering educators to go on improving their practice and exemplary models designed to activate the learning of engineering students. This paper aims to uncover the bedrock of established educational philosophies and theories that define and support active learning. The paper does not claim to present any new or innovative educational theory. There is already a surfeit of them. Rather, the aim is to assist Engineering Educators who wish to research how they can best activate the learning of their students by providing a readable, reasonable and solid underpinning for best practice in this field.
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The informal network ‘Active Learning in Engineering Education’ (ALE) has been promoting Active Learning since 2001. ALE creates opportunity for practitioners and researchers of engineering education to collaboratively learn how to foster learning of engineering students. The activities in ALE are centred on the vision that learners construct their knowledge based on meaningful activities and knowledge. In 2014, the steering committee of the ALE network reinforced the need to discuss the meaning of Active Learning and that was the base for this proposal for a special issue. More than 40 submissions were reviewed by the European Journal of Engineering Education community and this theme issue ended up with eight contributions, which are different both in their research and Active Learning approaches. These different Active Learning approaches are aligned with the different approaches that can be increasingly found in indexed journals.
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There is extensive evidence that active learning works better than a completely passive lecture. Despite this evidence, adoption of these evidence-based teaching practices remains low. In this paper, we offer one tool to help faculty members implement active learning. This tool identifies 21 readily implemented elements that have been shown to increase student outcomes related to achievement, logic development, or other relevant learning goals with college-age students. Thus, this tool both clarifies the research-supported elements of best practices for instructor implementation of active learning in the classroom setting and measures instructors’ alignment with these practices. We describe how we reviewed the discipline-based education research literature to identify best practices in active learning for adult learners in the classroom and used these results to develop an observation tool (Practical Observation Rubric To Assess Active Learning, or PORTAAL) that documents the extent to which instructors incorporate these practices into their classrooms. We then use PORTAAL to explore the classroom practices of 25 introductory biology instructors who employ some form of active learning. Overall, PORTAAL documents how well aligned classrooms are with research-supported best practices for active learning and provides specific feedback and guidance to instructors to allow them to identify what they do well and what could be improved.
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There is no previous study of the benefits of attending a national multidisciplinary conference dedicated to undergraduate researchers, despite the growing number of such conferences internationally. This paper addresses the gap in knowledge of the learning gains from these conferences, and reveals a student driven learning process, a multidisciplinary signature pedagogy. It presents the results of 90 in-depth interviews with student conference participants conducted over three consecutive years of a multidisciplinary National Conference of Undergraduate Research (2012–2014). This paper uniquely captures the student voice on their perceived learning gains from this experience. The results reveal that some students co-create a pedagogy of Foucauldian reciprocal elucidation, through a sense of ‘unfinishedness’, allowing them to reflect on their own learning in the light of divergent perspectives, questions and frames of reference. Bidirectional exchange of ideas and insights enabled students to ask and answer questions that transformed each other’s thinking, allowing them to arrive at understandings they could not have achieved by themselves. The opportunity to present research in an authentic setting beyond disciplinary and institutional contexts developed students’ skills and confidence, giving additional value over and above the recognised benefits of engaging in research. The undergraduate research conference is framed as a threshold experience for the development of self-authorship. Significant implications for practice include supporting constructive dialogues between students and the creation of authentic and professional multidisciplinary contexts for sharing research.
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A writing program was initiated for mechanical engineering undergraduate students. The program is part of a larger, university-wide effort called the Writing Enriched Curriculum (WEC) program. The purpose of WEC is for faculty, in a bottom-up process, to infuse disciplinespecific writing instruction into their curricula. The three-phase WEC process is (1) to develop a writing plan based on discipline-specific writing outcomes desired for graduating majors, (2) implement the plan and (2) assess the plan and revise based on the assessment. The plan for mechanical engineering defined nine attributes of mechanical engineering writing and 14 desired writing ability outcomes for graduating majors. Stakeholders agreed that problem sets were the number one form of writing for engineering students and that attention paid to writing a problem set would help students to learn the material. The plan was implemented by targeting three core courses for explicit writing instruction and raising the awareness of writing in other required courses in the program. Assessment is on-going and is tied to the ABET accreditation process.
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Learner-centred teaching is particularly suited to the teaching of scientific writing. The underlying premise of the learner-centred approach is simple: the learner will better assimilate new information if it is built on what they already ‘know’ than if it is imposed from the outside as in a teacher-centred approach. This approach goes step by step, progressively integrating new knowledge without artificially bending the course of the session to fit into preconceived content. The learner-centred approach has enormous advantages for the trainer: it is highly gratifying to stay focused on a group's needs, learn to listen to individuals, share the learning experience, and follow the trainees’ progress. At the end of the session, very often groups go home with a deep, relevant training experience that ‘speaks’ to them, is immediately applicable, and is therefore likely to stay firmly anchored.