26 February 2021

The use of physical items in teaching and digital monitoring of student performance are two ways to improve engineering education. University studies must change to keep pace with changes in the industry. These are the conclusions of a doctoral thesis recently presented at Linköping University.

Collage with pictures.
Peter Hallberg, monitoring, bicycle used in the teaching and students in the catapult course. Photo crdit: Mikael Sönne, Anna NIlsen and Peter Hallberg

Developed with MIT

The teaching structure “CDIO” has been described as “structured common sense” and was developed at LiU together with Chalmers University of Technology, the Royal Institute of Technology, and MIT in the US 20 years ago. CDIO is an abbreviation for “Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate”, and is intended to mirror the way industry works with product development as closely as possible.

Peter Hallberg. Photo credit Göran Billeson

A typical example at LiU is the catapult course, in which students design, build, test and compete against each other with wooden catapults.

“I worked with what I already had close at hand. My research would not have been possible if I hadn’t been teaching for several years”, says Peter Hallberg, a LiU teacher who has written a thesis that develops the CDIO model.

In his thesis, On Knowledge Creation and Learning at the Intersection of Product Development and Engineering Education, Peter Hallberg combines the theory of product development as practised in industry with educational theory used in teaching. He suggests that something he calls CEP, CDIO Enabling Platforms, can be an important tool in teaching.

These may be either digital platforms or physical artefacts that students build, test and develop during their education, sometimes over a long period and with participants from different programmes. One example are the wooden catapults, which have been used for ten years: another is the electrical bike that is used in several courses and for various exercises (see the photo below).

“Platforms like these promote active learning, which is known to improve results. I believe also that they make lifelong learning possible, where engineers can return to the university and supplement their expertise with new knowledge, in interaction with students. Industry is changing rapidly, which places huge demands on both further education and course development”, says Peter Hallberg.

Possibilities with AI

As a further way to improve education, Peter Hallberg has experimented with measuring various processes in which students acquire knowledge. As a trial, an app was developed in which students posted items they needed help with, and stated how long they had tried to solve the problem on their own. This subsequently became a sort of “frustration index”.

One of the benefits of the measurement has been the ability to assign teachers more efficiently, and reduce the average waiting time. Timetabling has also improved.

“These are large courses with maybe 300-400 students, and raising your hand as the only way of providing feedback is simply not good enough. The more data we have, the more analysis we can do”, says Peter Hallberg.

“We can also envisage students receiving continuous information about how well they are doing in a course, and reassurance that they will receive support and help on the right occasions. The possibilities are amazing, not least when we bring AI into the picture.”

Different courses

The thesis also launches the concepts of native content and curriculum nativeness in the evaluation of engineering education. These concepts describe the extent to which study programmes consist of courses with core content (such as computer technology in a computer technology programme) or more general courses that are not strongly linked to the programme title. Peter Hallberg has analysed the significance this has for student performance.

The investigation has shown, among other things, that the students achieve pass grades more often on core courses than on other courses. Furthermore, programmes with a higher fraction of core courses also have a greater degree of components with active learning. One conclusion is that both concepts can be used to compare master’s programmes in engineering, although more research is needed.

A third part of thesis focusses on product development. Here, Peter Hallberg recommends the use of low-cost demonstrators, or LCDs, when developing new industrial products. In contrast with traditional prototypes and more expensive demonstrators, which are often produced at a late stage of product development, LCDs can be used during the complete process, and modified as the development proceeds.

Translated by George Farrants

Bicycle used in the education.Example of CEP, CDIO Enabling Platform..


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