Gijs Krijnen is a lecturer of Electrical Engineering at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science. For the last eight years or so, he has also taught Advanced Technology classes. Within the Advanced Technology programme, he also serves as coordinator of the first module: Man-Machine.
Interactive working methods characterize this first Advanced Technology module, which require the students to dive in, both within and outside the confines of the project. As module coordinator, Gijs has met with his colleagues to investigate how to implement Problem-Based Learning (PBL).
The Engineering section of the module involves giving the students problem scenarios twice a week for which they need to find a solution. The students, divided into small groups, are given two days to find and present a solution. The real fun starts when groups find different ways of solving the problem. "It is about getting the students to discuss the matter with each other and to understand it as a result." Gijs notes that the teacher only rarely stands in front of the group during a Problem-Based Learning session. "The students are given more room and responsibility, which I believe is exactly what we want."
This working method has the students spend quite a bit of time on their assignment and the subject matter, Gijs says. On the one hand, this is a very positive development: the students truly spend their time studying. On the other hand, this may result in them disregarding the other sections of the module. The teacher really has to watch out for this.
Gijs also mentions the existence of a 'quiz meeting'. During these meetings, the students are presented with short assignments they need to complete in about three minutes. They may then vote with which of the answers provided they agree. Again, this results in the students discussing the various answers with each other, having to explain why they vote for a particular answer. This is peer instruction at work!
The module contains a project intended to have the students apply their existing knowledge as well asto gain new knowledge. "We wanted a project that is more than just illustrative. This project contains quite a few open questions that the students can already work on prior to discussing the relevant subject matter in class." Therefore, the students have to find the sources they need to tackle the problem themselves. To Gijs, the most exciting part is that the project involves much freedom: students choose the subject of and approach to the project themselves. It has presented him with a nagging question though: "How much should a teacher guide and interfere?" In the end, this 'open' sort of project was opted for, because "you do want the students to be excited about the work and make use of their own understanding and interest." Each of the groups has its own student teacher assistant, who acts like a tutor. The assistant encourages the group to perform to the best of their abilities, regarding the process as well as the subject matter.
Integration between module sections
Gijs points out that it is impossible for students to finish their project without having a proper understanding of the other module sections. To a certain extent, all the sections are integrated into the project. He would think it a shame if the module just became a package of old courses. "Try and make something fun out of this module and take the project very seriously." Gijs is aware that redesigning your way of teaching takes much time as he has personally experienced this burden. Yet he can also say with certainty that it offers many new possibilities. "It allows you to take a fresh look at the way you teach your class."