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B. Bordel, R. Alcarria, T. Robles, A. Sánchez-Picot

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (SPAIN)
With the introduction of the European Higher Education Space (EHES) and the finalization of the Bologna process, the students’ profile in the first courses of technical degrees has changed radically. Ten years ago, students starting technical degrees such as Telecommunication engineering made up a homogenous group of people in their twenties, with a deep knowledge of mathematics and certain notions about the applications and competencies related to the degree. However, nowadays, universities may welcome students from very different European countries and, besides; social changes during the last decade have caused nontraditional profiles to apply for the opportunity of studying technical degrees: adults looking for recycling courses, students with non-technical abilities looking for future working opportunities (which very difficult to motivate), etc. Approximately, statistics show that round 50% of new students belong to these new profiles.

In these new heterogeneous groups, traditional formal methodologies based on mathematical theories and abstract reasoning tend to fail as the most appropriate teaching technique to work on technical competencies such as programming. Nevertheless, both, the group structure (vey heterogeneous) and the native digital abilities of current inhabitants of developed countries, make informal techniques a good option to complement this traditional learning.

In particular, during the second term of the year 2016/17 in the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, a pilot experience has been conducted based on the introduction of experiential learning techniques in subjects related to programming. Specifically, contents consisting of microcontroller programming were restructured to include auto-guided practices developed into a learning environments where a microcontroller (Arduino) simulator was hosted. Students of both master and bachelor degrees were considered. All of them were enrolled into degrees related to Telecommunications engineering.

During this experience, students in the pilot group (around 20% of the total students) received auto-evaluation documentation and materials describing the theoretical basis of the content to be acquired, which were explained during the face-to-face sessions using the technique of the magisterial class. During the rest of the face-to-face time, and during the individual working time, students were encouraged to employ in a free and autonomous way the provided simulator, considering the proposed auto-evaluation documentation.

Results showed a double effect. First, students in the pilot group felt more motivated, as they were able to see the applications, the utility and possibilities of the proposed contents. Moreover, ad-hoc working groups appeared where discussions increased the general motivation level of the group. And, second, the average competency acquisition improved in respect to traditional groups (being especially significant in native digital people without technical or mathematical knowledge). In general, students in the experimental group noted a high level of learning and a better and deeper acquisition of competencies was reported.