EDUCATION LINKS CASE STUDY
A major rebuilding project has provided a good opportunity to review how engineering courses are taught and redesign curricula to improve the student learning experience.
The project is timely – staff in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland, in common with those in other institutions, were already aware of the need to change their teaching towards a more student-centred style.
New labs and teaching spaces
The building development involves knocking down two of the current four blocks and replacing them with an 11-storey building. Four new multi-disciplinary learning spaces (MDLS) have been built and are in use this semester – the rest will be available when the building is completed in 2020.
The new facilities will incorporate flat floors (in contrast to the traditional tiered lecture theatre) and furniture and laboratory equipment that can be reconfigured quickly to enable group work.
“We will use the next three years to get a deeper understanding of how to make best use of the facilities,’ Associate Professor Gerard Rowe says, “which could lead us to make additional changes to how we use and configure such learning spaces.”
Moving to more student-centred learning
Staff had already been looking at what institutions around the world are doing in terms of pedagogy. “Rebuilding provided the opportunity to revamp spaces to allow for a more modern way of engaging students – not getting rid of lectures but having less of them and more active learning.”
A group from the faculty visited four Australian institutions which had already gone through the process of changing teaching spaces and styles. They particularly liked what Queensland University of Technology had done, and arranged for one of their staff to visit and talk about the experience – what went well and what didn’t.
Some staff also attended last year’s Ako Aotearoa FLIPCurric workshop on curriculum design as part of the curriculum redesign activities.
Preparing staff for change.
In 2016, the faculty set up the Teaching Transformation Group (TTG) – a strategic group to prepare lecturers for change. “There’s no point making change unless you’ve prepared people,” says Gerard.
The TTG looked at the curriculum and where it could align with the new teaching style and learning spaces, and worked with staff to provide a rationale for change; this included presentations about what needed to change and why.
The TTG is also looking to form a teaching development unit comprised of lecturers who are particularly enthusiastic about the opportunities the changes will bring for better learning outcomes for students. The intention is that this unit will support staff through the process of change and encourage them to embrace a new way of delivering the curriculum.
As the ‘go to’ people, this group will be available for anyone who needs help, whether it’s assisting someone to redesign their course, helping with the new technology that is available in the MDLS or assisting lecturers with the use of software tools to make lectures more interactive.
Making best use of the new facilities
“You can’t just launch into active teaching, you have to carefully select where you use it,” Gerard points out. “Once we’re using the new learning spaces, it’s inevitable that it will influence conventional lectures and that staff will embrace new styles of teaching,”
While staff have generally been on board with the need for more active learning, class size is a major issue. With around 1,000 first-year students this year, the logistics of where to put everyone is challenging.
He notes that many years ago staff embraced project-based learning but found it was almost unmanageable in a big institution. “High class numbers means there is a huge overhead in terms of finding spaces for small groups, assessing group work, and ensuring each individual has contributed to the assignment.”
This is one area where staff may have some reservations around the proposed changes. “Lecturing is very efficient but not as effective for learning and vice versa, so we need a balance between the two.”
Our thanks to Gerard for his time and advice; if you have any queries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org