Technology Enabled Learning

How can technology enhance student learning?

Complete Learning Cycles
Environments in which students develop models, collect data, and evaluate alternative designs help them develop vital skills needed by practicing engineers. Student learning improves when students actively participate in knowledge construction and in assessment of their own learning. In one well-researched learning model, the Kolb Learning Cycle4,5, learners pass through four stages: active experimentation, concrete experience, reflective observation, and abstract conceptualization. Technology allows instructors to integrate all four stages of the Kolb Learning Cycle into classroom learning experiences. Foundation Coalition partners have dramatically restructured learning environments to enable students to take advantage of the capabilities and availability of enabling, yet inexpensive technology. Faculty members have combined modern technology and interactive instructional methods to create learning environments in which students, often in small groups, actively explore concepts, models, and designs.

Broader Problem Solving Approaches Are Available
Today, problem solving using powerful tools permits approaches beyond those traditionally selected because they minimize computational effort. Computationally intensive approaches allow students to focus on fundamentals of the entire problem, e.g., writing an entire set of simultaneous equations, instead of using a special purpose technique to reduce the problem to a single equation in one unknown. In addition, technology can facilitate a faster and more complete analysis of design alternatives by providing ways to rapidly create models or prototypes of proposed designs and to then simulate them in realistic ways.

More Time to Focus on Conceptual Understanding
Engineering educators know that time in undergraduate engineering curricula is a precious commodity. Students can save time by using computers to do problems requiring a page of algebraic manipulations or laboratory experiments that require repetitious measurements to obtain a graph. Then, they can invest the time to improve conceptual understanding, to pose and formulate design options, and to evaluate the quality and reasonableness of solutions and experimental data. Students use technology for learning activities both in and out of class. For example, students who have learned powerful software tools can perform routine tasks in much less time; therefore, they can focus on more important capabilities such as design, problem posing, problem definition, problem formulation, problem solving, visualization, communication, and team development.

How might you incorporate technology-enabled learning?

  • Instructors can build on the knowledge that students bring into class. It is not always necessary to introduce new software applications or experimental equipment. At times, you can extend what students have already learned.
  • Courses can introduce new technologies within the context of a class.
  • Programs can coordinate the use of technology across the entire curriculum, including courses offered by colleges beyond engineering. During the first two years, establish a foundation upon which to build in the junior and senior years.
  • Departments can design learning environments in which faculty can increase their knowledge of using technology throughout the learning experience of the students.
  • Colleges can construct an infrastructure in which students routinely use technology as easily as they do homework using pencil and paper. Take advantage of the experience of other institutions in classroom design. Many students have computers in their rooms. Consider building technology kits with which students conduct experiments or prepare designs outside the classroom.
How might technology expand the set of learning outcomes that can be achieved?
  • Students can, with more realistic problems and time to focus on conceptual understanding, practice higher-level thinking skills, e.g., evaluation, synthesis, analysis, and the development of deeper understanding. With powerful tools, they can actually design or optimize a structure, mechanism, circuit or process using realistic models and constraints. For example, students can design a control system to satisfy a set of specifications instead of analyzing the stability as a function of a single convenient parameter.
  • Students can develop the ability and confidence to learn new software applications on their own. By learning to use various software packages as tools, they develop intuitive, internal models of these packages that will allow them to learn new applications more rapidly and with less support. Thus, faculty can build experiences that simultaneously increase a student's knowledge of technology and their capabilities for self-directed learning.

References for further information

  1. Wells, M., Hestenes, D. & Swackhamer, G., "A modeling method for high school physics instruction," Am. J. Phys. 63: 606-619, 1995.
  2. Wilson, J. and W. Jennings, "Studio Courses: How Information Technology is Changing the Way We Teach, On Campus and Off," Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 88, no. 1, January 2000, pp. 72-80.
  3. Kiaer L., D. Mutchler, and J. Froyd, "Laptop Computers and the Integrated First-Year Curriculum at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology", CACM, 41(1), Jan. 1988, pp. 45-49.
  4. Kolb, D.A., Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1984.
  5. Harb, J., S. Durrant, and R. Terry, "Use of the Kolb Learning Cycle and the 4MAT System in Engineering Education," J. Eng. Ed., 83(2), April 1993, pp. 70-77.
  6. Chen, J., M. Ellis, J. Lockhart, S. Hamoush, C. Brawner and J. Tront, "Technology in Engineering Education: What Do the Faculty Know and Want?" J. Eng. Ed. 89(3), July 2000, pp. 279-283.