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Application of Microlearning Activities to Improve Engineering Students' Self-Awareness

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The development of skills for life and career (SLC) is a subject that has been extensively discussed in the literature. Yet, its implementation in the engineering curricula is only at a starting point. Accelerated technological advances and major changes in the future labor market are important drivers for the exploration of how to develop SLC. Such a context offers novel challenges for engineering education. This article describes an initiative in a Mechanical Engineering program. The methodology is centered in developing students' self-awareness using time-effective microlearning activities in a course at the end of the program. Results show a significant increase in self-awareness indicators. The approach can be easily extended to explore other SLC beyond self-awareness.
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1
Application of Microlearning Activities to Improve
Engineering Students’ Self-
Awareness
R. Pascual
Mechanical Engineering Department
Universidad de Chile, Chile.
E. Blanco
Mechanical Engineering Department
Universidad de Concepción, Chile.
P. Viveros
Industrial Engineering Department
Universidad Santa María, Chile.
F. Kristjanpoller
Industrial Engineering Department
Universidad Santa María, Chile
Abstract
The development of skills for life and career (SLC) is a subject that has
been extensively discussed in the literature. Yet, its implementation in the
engineering curricula is only at a starting point. Accelerated technologi-
cal advances and major changes in the future labor market are important
drivers for the exploration of how to develop SLC. Such a context offers
novel challenges for engineering education. This article describes an
initiative in a Mechanical Engineering program. The methodology is
centered in developing students’ self-awareness using time-effective
microlearning activities in a course at the end of the program. Results
show a significant increase in self-awareness indicators. The approach
can be easily extended to explore other SLC beyond self-awareness.
Keywords: self-awareness, skills for life and career, micro-learning
2
1
Introduction
The inevitable advance of science and technology is forever changing the labor
landscape. In the following years, we will observe how many professions will be
profoundly redefined [2, 16]. The job market will show accelerated changes in the set
of skills to ensure employability. Universities are slowly evolving and curricular change
is a global trend. For example, many Engineering Schools have designed and
implemented a series of courses on innovation and entrepreneurship and have also
promoted a general curricular alignment with Europe and North America [7,55]. A
crucial dimension in curricular change is centered on the development of Skills for
Life and Career (SLC). Such skills are of high value in an economy more and more
based on the service industry, which currently represents approximately three-
quarters of the world’s economy [5, 9]. Beyond economic reasons, and inspired by the
well-known Delors report [44], there exists an increasing need to enhance strategies in
at least two of the four pillars of an integral education process: learning to be and
learning to live together. The above concepts set a rich, motivating context to
develop efficient learning strategies, exploring activities that can occur inside and/or
outside the classroom, and using diverse formats and platforms [8, 51, 53, 56].
This work describes a time-effective microlearning approach that focuses on self-
awareness development. To describe it, we organize the rest of the paper as follows.
Section 2 presents a literature review related to the work focus. Section 3 describes
the proposed methodology. Section 4 describes our case study. Finally, we evaluate
the methodology in section 5.
Critical thinking
Effective communication
Self
-
Decision making
Interpe
rsonal relation
-
Ships
Equanimity
Problem solving
Assertiveness
Coping
with
stress,
trauma and loss
Creative thi
nking/lat
eral
Thinking
Empathy
Resilience
Table 1: Life skills according to the World Health Organization [30]. Highlighted,
the focus of this work.
2
Literature review
Putting it simply, using SLC is the most frequent thing an engineer does [31, 10]. SLC
will be difficult to handle by computers and robots and, thus, will be a bastion for
humans in a world dominated by work for machines [2, 9, 15]. Nevertheless, there
exist resistance to develop SLC in engineering education programs. Among other
reasons, we find: (i) cultural prevalence of technical skills over non-technical skills
[24], (ii) lack of knowledge of state-of-the-art educational frameworks by teachers
[25], (iii) incentive schemes that strongly
3
promote research [19], (iv) change resistance by the students themselves [26],
(v) scarcity of space in the curricula to insert ad hoc courses [10]. No doubt, the
existing barriers set a challenging scenario to propose innovative schemes to deliver
SLC at program level.
SLC definition vary from source to source. As example, the Accreditation Board
for Engineering and Technology of North America (ABET) [1] propose, among
others: (i) an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams, (ii) an abil
ity to
communicate effectively
,
a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in
life-long learning
. In (i) and (ii), interpersonal skills are highlighted.
(iii) puts emphasis in self-awareness and openness to new experiences [14, 27].
Another source to guide SLC definition is the Partnership for the 21st Century
Learning (P21) [24, 29]. It offers a framework that is an excellent framework to
motivate the development of SLC. They summarize them under the ’4Cs’ umbrella:
Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity. At the left side of
the diagram, they highlight the education on SLC. For years, the World Health
Organization (WHO) [30], has promoted the so called life skills, among which we
may find the ones which are the center of our study (table 1). A complementary
vision is offered by organizational psychology. As example, Bartram [6] promotes
the set of roles that are necessary to excel in the engineering professional context,
where autonomy, discretion and collaboration are sought. Table 2 offers a list of roles
that an engineer must fulfill in a service oriented organization [23]. If such roles are
not met by an engineer, it may hinder his/her professional development inside the
organization. It is observed that among the seven roles, only one is related to
technical expertise. More importantly, collaboration appears in a number of roles. It
highlights what is the core of the methodology proposed in this paper: to design and
implement
ad hoc methodologies to enhance SLC of the future engineers.
In the next section, we describe a methodology to develop self-awareness. For
that, we propose using a number of personality instruments. Other sources have used
personality instruments to estimate changes after interventions related to specific
aspects. For example, in Hess et al. [52], use the Engineering Ethical Reasoning
Instrument and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index to measured changes in ethical
reasoning.
3
Proposed methodology
We summarize the proposed methodology in the concept map shown in figure 1. The
main purpose is to introduce self-awareness to students during their final year of the
program. The approach allows to improve an SLC that will play a part for their
employability in future engineering job markets. We frame the methodology in a final
year course as it assures student maturity and potential tendency to accept subjects
which have historically been out of their program curriculum. Also a part of the
research, is the use of scarce academic time, which is mainly occupied with
professional engineering subjects.
While developing the strategy, a number of potential areas of focus appeared.
4
Role Challenge
1
Collaborator of his/her
manager at superior
level
2
Member of the man-
agement team
Designing and implementing work plans according to
guidelines and standards requested by the manager at the
superior level, providing ideas and suggestions to help
improve company results.
Collaborating to achieve the proposed strategies. At the
same time, must achieve the highest level of col-
laboration with its peers at the corporate level.
3
Internal provider Providing ideas and resources that allow performance
improvement of his/her clients inside the organization.
4
Technical expert Guiding the development of his/her area of respon-
sibility, according to the needs of the organization.
5
Responsible of the re-
lationship with clients
and suppliers (for com-
mercial and procure-
ment managers)
Consolidating relationships and information to allow
project development, new lines of products and/or
services, and supply schemes to add value for the
company.
6
Team builder Empowering collaborators with resources and skills
to fulfill their function inside the organization.
7
Leader Influencing on the values and beliefs of his/her col-
laborators, motivating them to develop themselves and
assume organization’s values and objectives as their
own ones.
Table 2: Expected roles of an engineer in a service company (adapted and extended
from [23]).
5
We prefer to develop self-awareness as SLC as it is an area that may enhance
collaboration and other SLC (table 1) and also because it has not been well explored
in the engineering education literature [22]. The following hypothesis guided the
strategy definition: applying standard personality instruments, exploring appropriate
support material and brief group reflections raises the self- perception levels
regarding self-awareness.
Once the research hypothesis was defined, the strategy development process was
simplified. It is focused on sequential microlearning activities of three types:
application of selected personality instruments (in the classroom), followed by
exploration of attractive support material (at home), and a final in-class reflection of
results from the instruments and the revised material (in the classroom). To assess the
results, a pre/post test was designed. It is shown in the case study section.
A key aspect of the methodology consists in identifying, prioritizing and selecting
a limited number of SLC instruments. This is so, as the allotted time to perform the
microlearning activities is limited. Relatedness among the instruments is also
desirable. The list of SLC candidates was selected from ABET [1], WHO [30] and
P21 [24]. The final selection was chosen to cover an original and essential skill at the
program level.
To address self-awareness development, several personality questionnaires are
applied. The set used in the case study is shown in table 3. The rationale to select the
questionnaires is summarized in the concept map 3. For each instrument, three
consecutive instances occur. First, each instrument is applied. After that, students
check some support material associated to the main subject of the questionnaire (also
in table 3). Students have a week to revise/study it.
6
Fig. 1: Concept map of the proposed methodology.
7
Subject
Instrument
Source
Supp
ort
material
Recommended
material
Empathy
Read the mind in
[
4
]
[
40
]
[
43
]
the eye
Big five person
-
Ten Item Person
-
[
12
]
[
38
]
-
ality traits
ality Inventory
Grit
Grit
-
S
[
13
]
[
37
]
[
13
]
Growth mindset
Implicit Self The
-
[
27
,
14
]
[
36
]
[
14
]
ory
Conflict
man
-
Thomas
-
Kilmann
[
17
]
[
35
]
[
41
]
agement style
test
Macchiavellism
Mach
-
IV test
[
3
9
]
[
34
]
[
42
]
Table 3: Summary of SLC activities of the case study.
It must be observed that our intention using microlearning activities is to spark
students’ interest and self-propelled research into SLC. Additional material is advised
to check for those who want to gain additional insight into each subject.
The support material was a mix of videos of TED talks [37, 36], journal papers
[40], documentaries [34]. The support material must: (i) reinforce concepts treated by
the instrument, (ii) belong to a validated source and, (iii) be considered as attractive
material for millennials. For example, for the grit scale [13], we use a TED talk
offered by the lead researcher on that subject [37] (table 3).
The reflective situation starts with a quiz about the support material. The quiz
usually uses 5-10 minutes of in-class time. The average of such quizzes amounts to a
small percentage of the final grade. After the quiz, results of the group and the
rationale behind the questionnaire are explained by the instructor. A joint reflection
of results is then carried on. This final instance usually takes 10-20 minutes.
The first instrument in the set is the Read-the-mind-in-the-eye (RME) test [4].
Studies have revealed that a main predictor of high performance of teams is
related to
high values empathy of its members, as estimated by the RME test. Empathy can be
correlated to agreeableness, one of the five main traits [4].
The Big Five personality traits is a taxonomy that has been extensively described in a
number of publications [12, 46]. The five factors are: Openness to experience,
Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Emotional stability. The initial
model was proposed by Tupes and Christal [46]. There are several instruments
associated to the taxonomy. As our objective is exploratory, we used a short version
with 10 items [12].
Consciousness has been correlated to grit. We consider is the Grit-S scale [13].
Duckworth and Quinn studied personality attributes associated to professional
success. A main predictor is grit, oriented to long term goals. People with high grit:
know very well what they want, are tenacious, insistent to get
8
their goals. We selected a short version of the instrument called Grit-S, which has 10 items. Grit
scale is composed of two sub-scales. It allows to position an individual in a scatter diagram to
compare him/her to others (fellow students in our case).
We explore static and growth mindsets using self-theories described in [27, 14] for
example. Persons with static mindset believe their intelligence is fixed and tend to
adopt performance goals. People with growth mindset believe their intelligence can be
increased and tend to adopt learning goals. Consciousness has been correlated to
growth mindset.
We also include conflict management style. We selected the well-known Thomas-
Kilmann test [17]. Personal style to manage conflict can be understood in terms of
assertiveness and cooperativeness. Assertiveness is associated to how an individual is
worried about satisfying his/her own concerns. Cooperative- ness is associated on how
individual concern to satisfy what worries the other(s). Five styles are described:
competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising and collaborating. The
competitive style is dominated by high assertiveness and low cooperativeness. He/she
wished to win at all costs and ensure that his/her position prevails. There exists a high
risk of breaking relationships. The accommodating style shows high cooperativeness
and low competitiveness. The individual is mainly worried about the others. For
him/her it is important to keep friendly relationships. This attitude may activate
changes on how the others behave. The avoidance style is low on both scales. He is
nor collaborative nor assertive. She is probably postponing the conflict looking for a
better bargaining position. The collaboration style is high in both assertiveness and
cooperativeness. He looks for solutions which satisfy all parties even if it takes a
longer time. This style promotes keeping good relationships. The compromising style
promotes searching for intermediate solutions where all parties concede something.
To end the self-awareness exploration, we suggest the MACH-IV test [17, 54]. It
estimates machiavellianism style. It correlates with compromising in the conflict
management style. As engineers work in organizations, we hypothesize that
understanding organization dynamics is a positive asset. Organizational power
struggles occur and machiavellian behaviors are encountered.
4
Case study
The methodology was tested in the course Physical asset management during the
autumn term of 2019. The course is optative in the Mechanical-Engineering
curriculum at Universidad de Concepción.
The
course
is
tak
en
mostly
b
y
students in
their final year of the program (Mode age is 22). The course has been used as testbed
to explore teaching strategies based on self-determination theory [20], and also flow
theory [21]. The course declares as learning goals: (i) to optimize decision making
related to equipment life cycle, (ii) to solve in an structured manner problems
associated to physical asset management, (iii) to design strategies and ad-hoc
methodologies to optimize engineering asset management. The above set of goals are
set at the design/evaluate level in the revised Bloom taxonomy [3]. Additionally, an
SLC goal was added: (iv) to recognize personality traits.
As described in the methodology section, several personality instruments were
applied. For each instrument, additional support material was revised by the students
at home. Finally, a group reflection was developed. Results of each inventory were
published so that each student received his/her results and could compare herself to the
rest of students. For that we use an ad-hoc platform [50]. Their application was
accelerated using well-known open-access digital survey platforms [48, 49].
Several students showed great interest in the subjects. Several supplementary
9
sources were advised (also in table 3).
At the end of the term, a wrap up session with a presentation of the results of the
tests, reflection and a summarization using the concept map 3 helped the students
understanding the why and the how of the initiative.
In what follows we show some student reflections at the end of the term:
I enjoyed this area of the course very much. I feel that all the material
(on self-awareness) is beneficial to improve, not only as student or
future engineer but also as a person...
It made me reflect. I am already finishing my studies, yet there are gaps
that I need to work on and advance...
It was great input for me. It motivated me to face new challenges, search for
new opportunities in every sense, reflect and investigate into extremely
important subjects that I did not know about...
(This part of the course) was a starting point to analyze my personality. I
have been able to identify areas of weakness. I will work on these traits and
attitudes...
4.1 Analysis
The results show a reasonable amount of heterogeneity in the group of students.
Comments from them show interest in discovering and reflecting about its
personality attributes and how they affect their life and work future.
Figures 9 to 11 show the pre/post results of the questionnaire designed for the
study. They show significative changes in self-perception in relation to: (i) self-
awareness (figures 9-11), physical asset management, use of IT and evidence-based
decision-making (figures 14-15), and effective communication (figures 12-13). Even
if the number of samples is small, the positive change is very satisfactory and
supports the validation of the research hypothesis. No doubt, insights gained in this
work require further investigation, considering limitations and potential already
reported in other contexts [8].
10
Fig. 2: Concept map for self-awareness instrument exploration. In boldface the
instruments that were considered.
11
Fig. 3: Results of the Read-the-Mind in-the-Eye test (36 questions).
Fig. 4: Results of the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (N=14). Scale:1-5.
12
Fig. 5: Results of the GRIT-S (N=15). Scale:1-5.
Fig. 6: Results of the growth mindset test (N = 13). Scale:1-5. Lower values indicate a
growth mindset.
13
3
t 2
s
u
de
n
t
s
# 1
0
Fig. 7: Results of the conflict management style inventory (N = 11). The circle has a
radius of 50%.
.
Fig. 8: Results of the Mach-IV test (N = 9).
14
Fig. 9: Pretest (white) and posttest (grey) for proposition I know my dominant
personality traits.
15
Fig. 10: Pretest (white) and posttest (grey) for proposition
I know and reflect
frequently about my empathy to my peers, family and friends.
Fig. 11: Pretest (white) and posttest (grey) for proposition
I recognize my areas of
strength and weakness to manage interpersonal conflicts.
16
Fig. 12: Pretest (white) and posttest (grey) for proposition
I recognize my areas of
strength and weakness for oral communication
.
Fig. 13: Pretest (white) and posttest (grey) for proposition I’m able to write a
properly structured professional report . Pre: white fill, Post: grey fill.
17
Fig. 14: Pretest (white) and posttest (grey) for the proposition I’m able to identify and optimize
processes related to engineering asset management. Pre: white fill, Post: grey fill.
Fig. 15: Pretest (white) and posttest (grey) for proposition
I can apply IT tools
(such as excel, python, etc.) to support operational decisions
.
18
4.2 Discussion
With such a limited number of students involved, it is impossible to draw
generalizations about the general success of the initiative to develop self-awareness
using microlearning activities. Yet, the significant increase in self-awareness
indicators is an excellent motivation for further inquiry. Evidence suggests that the
proposed approach can be used to enhance student learning in Engineering
Education. The small amount of time and effort that the approach requires both from
the teacher and the students serves as a lever to scale the initiative at the program-
level and develop SLC at different courses and at different levels in the curriculum.
5
Conclusions
This work proposed an original methodology to develop SLC for the 21st century
engineers using a micro-learning approach. We focused on self-awareness but the
concept can be easily extended to other SLC. The rationale for our approach is the
belief that any course in an engineering curriculum may be an excellent opportunity
to develop SLC. Results from the case study suggest that the work hypotheses are
reasonable and justify further work. The experiment allowed to detect an important
interest of students to develop SLC and gain an understanding of how it might affect
their personal and professional development.
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Rodrigo Pascual is currently an Associate Professor at the Mechanical Engineering
Department of the University of Chile. He graduated in Mechanical Engineering
at the University of Concepción, Chile, and obtained his Ph.D. degree at the
University of Liege, Belgium. He has worked in the academic world for more
than 25 years in Belgium, Canada, and Chile. Since 2001 he has been researching
Physical Asset Management, Reliability Modelling, and Engineering Education.
He has an active level of involvement in several industrial and university-based
projects.
Einara Blanco is a Mechanical Engineer graduated from the University of Pinar del
Río in Cuba with a Master's degree from the same university. Ph.D. in
Mechanical Engineering from Sao Paulo State University, Brazil, and post-
doctorate from the same institution. She is specialized in the development and
implementation of technologies for energy management and valorization of
biomass and waste, with emphasis on energy use, heat transmission, exergy, and
combined cycles. She has been a lecturer in postgraduate programs in Cuba,
Brazil, and Chile and has participated in several consultancies in thermal
conversion of biomass and waste by pyrolysis, gasification, and combustion. She
is the author of numerous publications in international journals and conferences.
She works as a principal researcher in projects on energy recovery of MSW and
agro-industrial waste. Einara is currently an assistant professor and researcher at
the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Concepción
Chile.
Fredy Kristjanpoller is currently a Professor at the Industrial Engineering Department
at Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, Chile. He received his Ph.D. in
Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Organization at the University of Seville,
Spain. His research and teaching interests are in operations, asset management,
reliability, maintenance strategies and risk analysis. He has been published in
several journals, including Reliability Engineering and System Safety,
Complexity, Renewable Energy, Journal of Risk and Reliability and others.
Pablo Viveros received his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from the
University of Seville, Spain. He holds a Master in Asset Management and
Maintenance from Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (USM),
Valparaíso, Chile. Since 2009, Pablo has been teaching courses in Operation
Management, Reliability Engineering, and Engineering Asset Management.
During 2016, he joined the Operation Management area of the Industrial
Engineering Department at USM as a full-time faculty member. He has active
participation in scientific research and industrial projects.
... Future engineers are expected to develop technical skills and the ability to adapt to uncertainty. Yet, initiatives designed to address the psychological demands of engineering are uncommon (Pascual et al., 2021). This raises interest in understanding non-cognitive factors and how they are affected by contexts of uncertainty. ...
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The application of methodological innovations in the teaching of engineering has been promoted and justified for several years now, especially those based on active learning and problem-based learning. However, the adoption of these new methodologies by universities has been slower than expected. Although many of the indicated causes refer to resistance by professors (e.g. a lack of time for implementation), there are also those that are based on resistance by students. In particular, an attitude of distrust is mentioned with regard to these innovations, which normally require greater student participation. However, if the student has been part of passive learning during the majority of his life, how valid is his opinion about a methodology that he does not know? In order to analyze this, we performed a two-stage study on the perception about learning methodologies on university students in Universidad de los Andes, Chile. The first stage consisted in changing a course to the active learning methodology and surveying the course's students (N=56) at the beginning as well as the end of the course, asking them to describe their ideal class. The results showed that the attribute " participative " , which is key in an active learning methodology, went from a selection of 41% before the course to 68% after the course was finished. The second stage corresponded to a general perception study of the engineering students at the same university, which was performed two years after starting to take 3 of the major's courses with methodological innovations based on active learning. The study included 581 students (62% of the total students at the School), who were asked to describe their ideal class. We compared the results of the opinions of freshmen (N=198) with upperclassmen that had taken courses with active learning (N=210) and those who had not (N=173). This study showed different cases where the description of the ideal class was the consequence of the previous courses that the student had taken, such as the example previously shown about how the attribute " participative " was chosen significantly more by upperclassmen than by freshmen, which coincides with the passive methodologies proper to the country's schools where they had studied. In this way, in this paper we show through diverse situations the influence that experienced methodologies can have on a student, and how through these same methodologies we can change these opinions and make them favorable towards methodologies based on active learning.
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