In the present day, the effectiveness of the traditional “lecture” based mode of teaching needs to be revisited. With the advent of online courses, which offer conveniences – time and money savings to begin with – beyond imagination, pressure on college teachers and pressures is immense.
In engineering education, a more ‘experiential’ mode of learning is increasingly becoming necessary, as the competition for jobs and other opportunities intensifies. In fact, educational institutions who have built their reputation based on more traditional teaching methodologies also find themselves in severe competition for students & funding with more modern counterparts who are more agile in embracing new methods. The New Education Policy 2020 is clear in articulating a need for to focus on a more holistic education, and the development of skills.
There are two aspects to experiential learning, in general. One is ‘learning by doing’ – where the emphasis is less on rote memorisation and recitation of facts, and more on application. In terms of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the first component of experiential learning pulls the student further up the pyramid, from remember & understand to apply, evaluation and even create. In fact, the last aspect, that is ‘create’ - is of especial relevance in the current day as it is clear that the most aspirational path for high calibre graduates is entrepreneurship.
Fig. 1Blooms Taxonomy based Verbs for Levels of Learning (https://tips.uark.edu
A second component of experiential learning also bears discussion, and that is ‘reflection’. In our view, even when institutions, professors and learners embrace learning by doing, the emphasis on reflection is poor. Except perhaps in research, where critical analysis is unavoidable, learners in higher education seem to linearly go forward without significant look-back. It is our thesis that enforcing simple reflection on part of the learner can go a very long way in improving the overall quality of education.
There is no doubt that students at all levels respond really well to these methodologies. While not neglecting development of basic fundamental understanding of the subject, exposing them to application, analysis and so on, and getting them to think, formulate problems and develop solutions, is critical. Moreover, it is virtually impossible for a single instructor to match the richness and breadth of perspective that the class can access, when they are “allowed” to share their thought processes. When it comes to reflection, and critically analysis of their work, while our college and even graduate students are untrained in this regard, they adapt quickly to the challenge.
Prof.PreetiAghalayam, Faculty – Chemical Engineering, IIT Madras
A few important challenges should however be acknowledged. One is that teachers and professors are themselves not well-trained in presenting curricular material in these format. The second is that giving students “voices” in class is very difficult especially in large classes. Perhaps a third important point is that engineering students are raised to be very ‘mathematical’ in their thinking, and struggle at times to articulate their thoughts and arguments in clear sentences (something that their counterparts in the social sciences are better able to).
“While not neglecting development of basic fundamental understanding of the subject, exposing them to application, analysis and so on, and getting them to think, formulate problems and develop solutions, is critical”
In our experience, two important aspects can be embraced by teachers, professors and institutions, and this can go a long way in markedly improving not only how our young people learn, but also how happy, engaged and motivated they remain while continuing on their journey. One is a concept that can be dubbed as “Play to learn” – which is a catch-all phrase for gamification of learning. Perhaps a better way to express it is to call it play-based learning. By bringing play into the classroom, engagement increases, and a fail-safe environment is provided to every learner, which will help significantly in the transition to higher levels of learning. Moreover, games can be easily adapted for pre-classroom learning – perhaps of facts, definitions and so on, replacing ‘boring’ reading of the textbook with ‘fun’ playing. Student feedback about games & game-like interactions for heavy conceptual learning is unequivocally positive – they particularly like the stress-free, inclusive and exciting new ways of acquiring information.
The second related aspect that is interesting particularly in the present, covid-dominated world is the use of technology. It is becoming clear that technology has the potential to be a great enabler all around, particularly for high quality and deep learning. For e.g., while every subject invariably has a number of facts to be presented to new learners, teacher can provide online games to allow students to practise concepts and learn facts on their own time, and use class time for in-depth explorations of student ideas rather than for lectures. Online polls provide students a way to anonymously provide their viewpoints and reflections to the instructor, and in fact can be used for instant feedback, even in large classes. There are other numerous examples that can be provided, but suffice to say that with the right type of use, technology tools can genuinely work in moving us forward.
Fig. 2Audience responses when asked “What are top ingredients of impactful teaching?”
In conclusion, teaching and learning, across the board – in schools, colleges, institutions of higher education – is on the cusp of change, and embracing methodologies that focus significantly on interactive and engaged learning, is key. Fig. 2is a capture of the opinion of a large group that attended a learning session conducted by us recently, where we asked for their view on ingredients of impactful teaching/learning. While the words speak for themselves, the byword ‘engagement” stands out clearly as the most important! And yes, the session was conducted online and the responses in Fig. 2 were received instantly!
Prof. PreetiAghalayam is a faculty in the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT Madras.Mr.KarticVaidyanathan, Founder of Play2Learn, is an IIT Madras Alumnus. They are the co-facilitators for the nine-credit general elective course called ‘Let Us Play to Learn’ offered by IIT Madras