All entries for Wednesday 08 March 2006
March 08, 2006
I had an interesting discussion today with one of the Chinese students on the EEE Masters degree programme which has given me much food for thought. The conversation started with the student saying that she was tired – as a result of a lot of study – not a hedonistic lifestyle! This led the conversation to how much more tiring EEE modules are compared to more conventional taught masters modules. The reason for this is that the EEE modules are more demanding than sitting in lectures (and syndicate exercises) all day, taking notes as appropriate. The EEE modules require a lot of activity because they are team project based and some of the EEE modules have no lectures at all. The learning through discovery approach requires much more thought, analysis of the literature and discussion, leading to presentations or written submissions.
I commented on how different this experience must have been compared to the style of learning prevalent in China. She agreed and when I remarked that everyone on the course appeared to have adapted to it well, she replied that whilst everyone is in favour of the approach, some find it quite hard to contribute to some of the projects. The teamwork inherent in the programme has been very supportive and it is important to get the right mix of students, particularly in the early modules when the approach is new and quite daunting. As module tutor for the first two modules I had been unaware that some students were struggling during the in-module work. I was aware that some students were making more contributions to forum discussions, and individual performance in post module assignments showed a spread of ability, but nothing that raised concern. I recognise that it is not easy for a student who is struggling to go to the module tutor for help and it is equally if not more difficult for the other team members to advise the module tutor that one of their number is having difficulities. This is of major concern to me and we, the EEE tutors, will have to consider how to overcome this problem for future courses.
Another surprise to me was that the degree has a reputation, after 4 modules (the fifth has just started) for being difficult and that students have either decided not to take one of the EEE modules as an elective or have cancelled their EEE module elective. Apparently at least one potential student who intends to study at Warwick next year has decided not to apply for the EEE degree on the basis of its reputation. The EEE students are spending more time on in-module work and post module work than is intended. A module is supposed to represent 100 hours study and my modules break this into 60 hours of team based projects and 40 hours individual assignment. The in-module work is done over two weeks and more effort is applied than is intended. Most students are unable to do anything other than the in-module work during this period. Citing this week as an example, a project was set on RDD for a presentation on Friday. While it was still possible to do the project better, the students would work on it, even though this means that more time is spent on it than expected. This is a demonstration of critical autonomy and enthusiasm but if more time is spent on the module, this either takes time away from the project or it means that the study hours required for the degree increase from 1800 hours. While I am concerned that the degree's reputation may put off potential students from applying for it, there is no place on this course for students who want a masters degree for as little effort as possible. After all, our intention is to prepare students for a role that helps organizations to achieve excellence, and that is hardly suitable for students who are not motivated to study. When I suggested that for next year we should return the modules to a conventional taught format, the response was an emphatic no! She felt that this approach was resulting in deep learning which would be lost if we reverted to more traditional practices.
All of these points lead to an interesting dilemma. If we are unable to attract sufficient students to enrol on the programme because of its reputation for being difficult, the programme may become unviable and be withdrawn as was its predecessor, the Q&R degree. Somehow we have to get over the message that although the course is challenging, the gains are also great. Where better to face and succeed in challenges than in the safety of the University? Mistakes, if they happen, are opportunities for learning, are without censure and cannot harm anyone. I am really impressed with the EEE students. Their performance exceeds expectations. The trouble is that the reputation for difficulty is likely to be the message received by potential students rather than the great achievements of those who undertake the course. Perhaps some student profiles/testamonials on the EEE homepage might be a way of balancing the messages received by would be students and those considering taking EEE modules as electives.
Enough for this blog. I am pleased that I had this conversation and received the feedback. There is much to think about and do.