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B. Bordel, R. Alcarria, D. Martín, M.A. Manso

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (SPAIN)
With the introduction of the European Higher Education Space (EHES) and the finalization of the Bologna process, every master or bachelor degree must consider the elaboration of a final project by the student candidate to obtain the degree. Although there are some differences in the implantation and development of this new requirement depending on the degree’s knowledge area (mainly because engineering degrees already included previously a final project as final activity); in general, these final projects have a common basic structure in all Universities.

Each student has to select a working topic, which must develop with the assistance and tutoring of an experienced professor. In a traditional approach, the candidate and the professor meet a first time when the scope and timing is discussed. During the following weeks the student works in an individual and autonomous way, probably discussing the evolution of the contribution with the tutor periodically.

This approach, however, is framed in a traditional approach of higher education, based on magisterial explanations and face-to-face classes, which tends to disappear in the new educational model proposed in the context of EHES. Therefore, students face hard problems to develop final projects following this traditional methodology, as many times they have to develop an activity of this type for the first time and, besides, they are not used to the working method as the Bologna process has highly increased the tutoring level at college.

In the context of Telecommunication Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, these problems are each day more visible (as more participative methodologies, such as flipped classroom, are introduced during the degree). As a proposal, during the academic year 2016/17 we have introduced in an experimental group a new methodology for developing final projects based on challenge-based learning paradigm and empowerment techniques.

Two different homogenous groups including both master and bachelor degree students were composed. The first group developed final projects following the traditional approach. The second group was encouraged to collaborate to solve real problems and address technological challenges which, finally, would compose their final projects. In order to overcome the potential “Pygmalion effect” due to past experiences and rumors, an empowerment technique was deployed as well. The experiment was developed during twelve weeks. Once final projects were evaluated and defended, students were asked to fill a survey about the experience and their perception about the process and their learning. Academic results of both groups, as well as results obtained from the surveys, were processed and analyzed.

Results showed that students in the experimental group felt more motivated to work on the final project; although sometimes they did not see the final objective or how the ongoing works could compose their final projects (they supported some level of uncertainty). On the other hand, student following a traditional methodology valued the experience as they thought they were “working as in a commercial company”. However, they were not motivated and typical undesired behavior appeared like plagiarism. Academically, students in the experimental group noted a high level of learning and a better and deeper acquisition of competencies (both, technological and transversal) was reported.