2/2015, In English, Koulutus ja oppiminen, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

Continuous self-evaluation of intensive projects

Introduction

Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences (Metropolia), Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (Frankfurt UAS), Coventry University, and Vilnius Gediminas Technical University have jointly organized several short-term Intensive Projects (IP) to enhance their co-operation. The main idea was to gather approximately 40 students and 15 teachers together for three weeks to conceive, design, implement, and operate embedded systems. Self-evaluation was an integrated part of all the events. The first evaluation was completed during the first week of each event and was promptly analyzed, enabling the possibility of making changes to the IP curriculum and practical arrangements. The second evaluation was a systematic interview of the students either individually or in small groups and interviews of all teachers. The third evaluation was an electronic questionnaire at the end of the IP, which also fulfilled the EU report minimum student evaluation criteria. The results of the evaluations were used to improve the concept, content, and practical arrangements for the next IP.

This paper describes how we organized the Intensive Projects, how we performed an internal evaluation, and our results. We have recognized issues which can make the IP successful and that are common to the intensive project concept, independent of the topic. Based on the evaluation material, we provide some recommendations that can help organize similar intensive projects in the future.

Intensive project objectives and learning outcomes

One of the main objectives of all IPs was to increase co-operation between the partners. All partners have bilateral Erasmus agreements for students and staff exchange. During the project, we were able to create new learning platforms and engineering workspace concepts which were partly adopted by all partner universities and increase the bilateral teacher exchange between the partners.

Our second primary non-technical objective was teaching students how to work in multicultural engineering teams, which improves their interpersonal skills. Similar observations have been made by Kitsnik et al. (2004) in a study related to peer tutoring. The language and the cultural barriers were completely broken; all students were equal regardless of their origins or language skills and teams used the differences of the team members as strengths. For the 2013 Active Games IP (Metropolia 2013), we introduced a third, non-technical objective: how to find an engineering solution to a non-engineering problem.

Our anticipated learning outcomes were met for all of our IPs during the period from 2010–2014 (Metropolia 2012, 2013, 2014). The student feedback showed that more than 90% of students felt they learned new things during the IP and gained more professional skills. Students and teachers felt that the IP was a great success. The most valued tool in making the the IPs a success was our continuous self-evaluation methods.

Evaluation and evaluation methods

Internal quality assurance

We collected student feedback during all IPs at the end of the last day of each week (Metropolia 2012). The methods used included a paper questionnaire and an online form. The IPs utilized continuous assessment principles and student progress was monitored not only during the weekly competitions but also during the group work in real time (Metropolia 2013). Additionally, there was a peer evaluation process in which the students evaluated each other.

In brief, the results of the student feedback are as follows:

  • 2010 EDSP IP: Students were very satisfied with the IP. The only two items where students did have some concerns were both time-related; as the IP was in conducted in only three weeks the amount of time for each planned topic was very limited with strict deadlines.
  • 2011 EDSP IP: Students were very satisfied with the IP, and showed an improvement compared to the previous IP. There were no items for which the students had serious concerns. We had used the internal evaluation results to clearly improve the most critical parts of the IP. In addition, students gave good ideas on how to further improve the IP.
  • 2012 EDSP IP: We received similar results compared to the two previous years, with excellent ratings. The organizers obtained excellent marks from the students.
  • 2013 Active Games IP: The results of evaluations were excellent. There was only a little room for improvement except regarding matters related to the facilities, equipment and tools available.

The project organizers have reflected on the recommendations of the internal evaluation report of the previous stage. The results indicate that paying some extra attention to internal evaluation substantially help make both short-time and long-time improvements.

Other improvements from the IPs

The academic staff have expressed strong beliefs that participation in the project will greatly impact the employability of the participants because: “it gives the foreign students 3 weeks of intensive English language training, and the work in the international groups is always a benefit”; “it is very important for graduates to have international experience”; “students get a lot more out of the practical hands-on experience especially with modern experience”.

The IP offers an excellent framework to simulate a real project work environment. In addition to new professional and soft skills, the students obtained a unique opportunity to learn realistic working processes. Students had to use their prior technical knowledge, adapt new theoretical concepts, learn to use new tools and equipment, work with new people from different cultures in an environment of strict time constraints, with limited availability of equipment and parts, and a constantly changing situation.

Discussion

All participated teachers have outlined that the preparation for and the implementation of the intensive project has become smoother every year, this is particularly true due to the continuous evidence-based improvement. The project team was able to use the expertise gained over the years of the project. To quote the participants: “we know exactly what is needed, …, there is more documentation and information available”; “we have had the experience with how the groups work and we can anticipate problems and conflicts and can solve this better”.

In addition, teacher interviews show that the teachers gained experience and knowledge on different cultures and practiced language skills as well as further developed their skills in regards to teaching in an international environment. Also students have reported on gained better language skills on multiple occasions. The impact on teacher also covers extending personal relations, sharing ideas. The organizational arrangements should be divided to as many teacher as possible to avoid the burden on single individuals.

The same partner network strengthened with new partners will continue – if funded – the co-operation within the Erasmus+ program. On the new project the goal is taken even further. We aim to develop new and innovative practices to international ICT engineering education and test them applying the approach to the development of a practical student projects. This includes including the new teaching methods directly to the curricula, new teaching methods, and revolutionary methods for carrying out students’ learning projects.

Conclusion

Self-evaluation methods were effectively employed to improve the quality of annually organized intensive projects. Our recommendations for organizing similar intensive projects on multidisciplinary topics are as follows:

  • Plan the self-evaluation as an integrated part of the IP.
  • Use multiple evaluation methods, such as individual and group interviews, electronic questionnaires, and also paper questionnaires.
  • Use a multi-phase evaluation to maintain a feedback loop that allows making changes to the current IP rapidly.
  • Analyze the evaluation results systematically and use them to improve the current IP and the following IP.
  • Arrange informal gatherings such as meals together, group accommodations, and group visits. If possible, arrange housing for teachers students in the same location.
  • Spend some extra effort balancing the workload and budget between the partners.

We are planning to extend the co-operation by asking more institutes to join the coalition and add industrial connections. In addition to joint IPs, we hope to extend the partner network to other forms of co-operation such as jointly developed courses, double degree programs, and long-term teacher exchange. In all these, the internal self-evaluation will play an ever-increasing role.

Authors

Juho Vesanen, Lecturer, B.Eng., Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, juho.vesanen@metropolia.fi

Antti K. Piironen, Director, Ph.D., Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, antti.piironen@metropolia.fi

Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences (2012). Embedded Digital Signal Processing Intensive Project 2010–2012 Final Reports, URL: http://users.metropolia.fi/~anttikp/eDSP/, Accessed January 31, 2014.

Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences (2013). Active Games Intensive Project 2013 Final Report, URL: http://users.metropolia.fi/~anttikp/activegames/ Accessed January 31, 2014.

Kitsnik P., Nurminen T., Piironen  A.K., and Saurén K. (2003). Facing Cultural Differences in Multicultural Learning Environment; Development Project for Teacher Pedagogical Education,  Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences, School of Business, Finland.

Piironen A.K. (2012). Embedded DSP Intensive Project 2012, Proceedings of AmiEs-2012 – 11th International Symposium on Ambient Intelligence and Embedded System, Espoo, Finland, URL: http://amies-2012.metropolia.fi/abstracts/, Accessed January 24, 2014.

Piironen A.K., Vesanen J., Blake M.,  Evans J.,  Abatis P., Jungke M., Stief W., Usinskas A., Matiukas V., Omelcenko V. (2011). Embedded DSP Intensive Project 2010, Proceedings of 7th International CDIO Conference, DTU, Denmark.

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