Introduction of Electrical and Electronic Engineering is a core subject for many Engineering majors with an average of 250 enrolments per semester. It is an ultra-critical subject as it provides important fundamentals and is one of the first core subjects students learn at UTS after high school. After getting low Student Feedback Survey (SFS) results in 2019 and 2020, I collaborated with subject coordinator Peiyuan Qin to develop some ways of responding to this feedback and together we made improvements for a better student experience (and higher survey results!).
In 2021 (Spring session), in order to further enhance the learning experience and better engage the students during lockdown, this subject went through a major update. Thanks to some eye-opening LX.lab workshops, I learned how to transform passive learning technical content into short concept videos and how to segment, frame and activate them to make them more engaging and attractive.
As well as gaining comparatively higher feed-forward SFS results, I included a feedback box within Canvas and received many positive feedback comments:
It is refreshing to see a different format of content delivery.
The resources are well prepared, well resourced, well presented and have great example material and summaries at their conclusions.
3 changes for positive results
1. A new structure for a student-centered experience
I completely redeveloped the subject structure in Canvas to ensure a good self-learning experience. Each week, the module commences with an ‘Overview’ section explaining what a student is going to learn, why to learn it, and the connections between what was learned and the topics covered in this lecture. Following this, several topics are presented on pages containing one or more recorded videos (which are properly activated using texts), a knowledge points summary, questions and other learning resources.
After the topic pages, there is another page entitled ‘Summary and Key points’ which summarises all the topics covered in that particular week. On this page, there is a discussion board allowing the students to provide feedback for discussion with me and/or other students at any time. Several files are attached at the end, including the PPTs used to create the videos, lecture notes and tutorial questions/solutions. Prior to 2021, only lecture notes and tutorial questions were available online.
Dr Ding has created great resources and presents meta-cognitive strategies that assist greatly in the learning of concepts that are quite abstract (as electrical stuff tends to be).
2. Blended learning enhanced with effective videos
I recorded numerous vivid and easy-to-understand videos to support students unravelling complex concepts and improve their engagement with this core subject. The videos have a very clear logic chain and many figures/animations. I have received numerous feedback from students, both verbally and in writing (on Canvas), commenting that the videos are useful and very easy to understand. Much of the negative feedback from Autumn session was that lectures were an insufficient length for the material that needed explaining – devising videos to communicate the same information proved a more impactful solution than simply extending the lecture times.
To include students from different backgrounds, alternative learning materials are provided to explain the same theory/concept/method delivered in the videos, such as textbook chapters and materials from Open Education Resources. There are also questions and design examples related to the concepts to ensure a rich learning experience. Moreover, I have included some optional extension content to challenge high achievers. The extension content either discusses the fundamentals to provide more insights behind the theories and/or presents more applications in real life.
3. Promoting an engaging culture – both in Canvas and on-campus
I have been constantly promoting a learning culture which facilitates the students to engage with the materials and me. It highlights timely feedback and communication – instant reply in class and within one working day after class – from me, the teacher to the students, from the students to me, and between the students themselves.
This fundamental subject has many dull technical concepts and methods. I designed a variety of questions to engage students by stimulating their interest and linking the theory with reality and their possible future engineering work.
- Do you know that electric charge travels slowly in a conductor? Slower than a snail!! Then here comes the question: why do people get an ‘instant’ shock when touching a power plug? (Do not try this at home!!) This question leads to a hot discussion in class and some comments on Canvas.
- You have a battery having inner resistance of 1 Ohm and providing a voltage output of 2V. Also, you have a few bulbs, each of which can be equivalent to a 4 Ohm resistor. What can you do to achieve the highest efficiency when lighting your house? This question links the concept of ‘impedance matching’ with the reality of how to properly design a circuit to enhance one’s daily life or the performance of a commercial product.
During my lectures, I always pause at certain points and invite questions to check their understanding. I also encourage students to discuss their thoughts before I give feedback or answers. For example, in one tutorial session, the students were divided into several groups to propose and present their solutions for a real-world issue. After each presentation and before I gave my feedback, I encouraged the audience to challenge the team and have a debate. This approach resulted in fruitful discussions and remarkably improved their work.
Small changes, big improvements
After these changes were applied, this subject’s satisfaction score rose from only around 3 (in 2019/2020) to 4.18 (in 2021). The participation rate also rose considerably, reflecting a higher engagement from the students. Small changes made a big difference, and even if some of the changes were time-consuming in the short-term, the long-term gains can be clearly seen in the rising survey results. Based on my most recent SFS feedback, I plan to improve online assessments for the next session – there’s always room for further improvement!