In an international multidisciplinary project, students from three universities in Italy, Finland and the Netherlands work in small groups on IoT – Internet of Things – solutions for authentic problems. Four Finnish students of such an IoT Rapid-Proto Lab have worked on a multidisciplinary software project, a queue monitoring system. Evaluation revealed a mismatch between student and teacher perception of the learning goals and subsequent perceived success of the course. Let’s take a look at this discrepancy from a pedagogical point of view.
Unraveling the mismatch
While designing this IoT course, the teacher formulated three learning goals:
- To develop the ability to learn new programming related technologies.
- To learn how to define a project and work in a software team.
- To acquire content knowledge.
Although it is important to learn content knowledge, as formulated in learning goal 3, the teacher’s main aims for this course were the first two learning goals regarding technical skills and teamwork competences. However, students thought the aim of the course was to acquire content knowledge to implement a prototype of the queue monitoring system. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the course, not everyone was satisfied with respect to accomplishment of learning goals. That is, students reported improvement of their content knowledge and skills and were satisfied with these accomplishments, considering this is what they thought the course was aiming at. The teacher, on the other hand, was less positive: Only one of three learning goals – the least important one – was accomplished.
What was going on?
Why were the students not able to achieve the learning goals of this course? First, apparently the learning goals were not clear to the students. Second, it appears that students lacked the competences to achieve the higher-order goals. Third, the role of the teacher might have been too directive to achieve the desired learning goals.
What can we do about it?
The simple answer to the problem of unclear learning goals is, of course, to make them clear. But this is easier said than done. In the current example, it was an experienced teacher who encountered this lack of understanding of the learning goals by the students. Here are some tips for presenting learning goals (Tamim & Grant, 2013):
- Explicitly state the learning goals at the beginning of the course.
- Formulate specific sub-goals.
- Provide feasible approaches to achieve the learning goals.
To tackle the students’ lack of relevant competences, we have to look at the course requirements. These should correspond to the minimum level of skills and requirements to be able to achieve the learning goals of the course. It is important to take the learning goals into account when establishing the course requirements.
The issues and solutions discussed so far, mainly concern creating the right expectations and prior skills of the students. However, it is equally important to assume a teacher role that fits the learning goals. In this case, learning goals focus mostly on learning of skills and competences (learning goals 1 and 2) and to a lesser extent on knowledge acquisition (learning goal 3). Literature shows that for these types of learning goals the teacher should be more of a coach or facilitator than a traditional teacher (Gavin, 2011; Tamim & Grant, 2013; Tseng, Chang, Lou, & Chen, 2013).
Another important factor to consider in relation to these types of learning goals, is that the assignments and learning environment are designed to meet the goals: the students should have the opportunity to adopt and develop the relevant skills and competences. It can be quite challenging to create a successful learning environment when different learning goals create various demands that are difficult to combine (assignments, teacher, ICT, etcetera).
What have we learned?
There was a mismatch between student and teacher perception of the learning goals and subsequent perceived success of the course in this IoT Rapid-Proto Labs project. Students did not understand the learning goals and lacked the competences to achieve the higher-order goals.
To prevent such problems, we have four recommendations:
- Formulate clear learning goals
- Formulate clear course requirements
- Provide appropriate guidance (teacher as facilitator)
- Design a learning environment that facilitates achievement of the learning goals
These recommendations are specifically – though certainly not exclusively – applicable to project-based learning situations, such as the IoT Rapid-Proto Labs courses, with a focus on skill learning rather than content knowledge acquisition.