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B. Bordel, R. Alcarria, J. Velasco, T. Robles

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (SPAIN)
The fourth industrial revolution is envisioned to totally change society. Although most relevant changes will take place within the next years, nowadays first evidences of the appearance of a new type of citizen may be found. In particular, most education professionals agree that with the introduction of the European Higher Education Space (EHES), the profile of engineering students has changed. In general, informal observations show that traditional deductive reasoning has turn useless for engineering students, and they prefer an inductive approach.

This fact, which has been commonly referred as a negative consequence of digitalization, presents, nevertheless, a very interesting secondary effect: new students present a learning curve much faster than previous generations in relation to technical abilities. Circuit construction, robotics, programming… are competencies that are acquired in an incredibly speedy manner by new engineering students. Actually, any work about a particular and specific application scenario and technology (the basis of induction processes) is developed in a much more satisfactory and faster way by these new students.

For all these new students, there is stablished, then, a dilemma between problems to understand abstract problems and general theoretical laws; and their incredible easiness to address particular technical problems. The final impact of this social change in the students’ academic results will depend on this equilibrium, which is different in each particular area of knowledge, degree, university, etc.

Observations performed by the authors seem to prove that, globally, these new students obtain better academic and professional results than previous generations, in relation to engineering courses and only considering academic causes (as, usually, other exogenous variables such as the economy situation influence the students’ results, overall in the professional world).

In order to scientifically validate the informal observations and conclusions developed by the authors, a pilot experience was carried out at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. As a proposal, during the second term of the academic year 2017/18, in the context of Telecommunication Engineering we have created an experimental group for working on most modern technologies with two different approaches: theoretical and practical.

Two different groups were composed. In the first group students with a traditional profile (from degrees created before EHES) were integrated. In the second group, students in the last two years of new telecommunication engineering degrees in the context of EHES were joined.A final project, professional performance evaluations and traditional test exams were developed by both groups. Once finished all the evaluation process, students were asked to fill a survey about the experience. Academic results of both groups, the professional performance evaluated by domain experts as well as results obtained from the surveys, were processed.

Results confirmed most informal observations. They showed that traditional students present a better abstract reasoning, but they need more time to develop and solve practical problem about an specific technology and scenario. Professional performance, nevertheless, is higher in new students, as they are more proactive and resolutives. Globally, both groups were similar, although a statistically relevant improvement is reported in respect to new students' learning and results.