The Challenges of Creating Successful Collaborative Working and Learning Activities in Online Engineering Courses

Published in: Engineering Innovations for Global Sustainability: Proceedings of the 14th Latin American and Caribbean Conference for Engineering and Technology
Date of Conference: July 20-22, 2016
Location of Conference: San Jose, Costa Rica
Authors: Liz Bacon
Lachlan MacKinnon
Refereed Paper: #151


The authors consider a number of the issues that arise when developing online engineering courses, with a particular focus on group-based collaborative working and learning. They argue that these issues are more difficult to address in STEM subjects, where there is an expectation that students will work with heavyweight processes, requiring significant sharing of expertise and resources, rather than the lighter weight processes experienced by open, discursive groups in other subject areas. The paper considers the history of collaborative and cooperative working and learning in computer supported environments, leading to the current models of online support for such activities. It identifies the key challenges and success factors when developing online learning courses, drawn from both the research and the authors’ own experience. It considers the challenges of moving from face-to-face to online learning, and how these have been addressed, before focusing more closely on collaborative learning, particularly in Engineering and related subjects. The authors then report on the experience of running a MOOC for an EU research project, in which they attempted to use a heavyweight Engineering Design process, Concurrent Design (CCD) to support collaborative activities within the course. The design and development of the course is described, and then the operation of the MOOC and the experience of the students and tutors, concluded by a statistical view of the outcomes. The paper then draws some conclusions for the design and development of online courses in Engineering, and a consideration of how to deal with preparing students to engage with heavyweight processes, like CCD, in such online courses. Techniques involving pre-selection, filtering and blended learning are discussed, and considerations of the motivation of students when undertaking courses as part of qualification studies. We must develop techniques to support collaborative learning in online courses, as they represent the future.