OPTIMIZATION OF LEARNING IN CASES OF DIFFERENTIAL PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN09 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Conference name: 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2009
Location: Barcelona ,Spain
Abstract:Prior knowledge of students is a necessary input for teachers in order to properly design their programs. However, in higher education it is more and more frequent that students have very different background knowledge. There are some reasons for this fact, but perhaps the increased mobility in students, as well as the coincidence of students with different ages and previous studies are the main causes of this variability. In these cases, most teaching methodologies fail to achieve the basic goal that students obtain a maximum learning level as a whole. If fixed objectives are set, some students will fulfil the goals with no need of studying the subject, whereas others will fail to get the objectives. This may have serious implications on motivation: on the one hand, students with higher knowledge will find the subject boring and even useless; on the other hand, other students will consider the subject extremely difficult. For this reason, individual goals must be set considering the previous knowledge of the students. The objective of our research was to identify the best methodology in the following situation of differential previous knowledge. The subject of 3rd year of Agricultural Engineering “Technology of Animal Production” includes a practical work where the computer assisted program design AutoCAD is used to solve problems related to animal production. The use of this program is considered a necessary competence of an agricultural engineer. However, there is a wide range of prior knowledge of students, as stated in a survey at the beginning of the subject (up to 40% of the students ignored the use of the program).
To deal with this situation, two general objectives were established. The main goal of the work is that students solve a problem related to the spatial distribution of an animal production unit. The second objective is that students improve their knowledge of AutoCAD and use this program to solve the problem. Two methodologies were compared. In the first one the teacher explained the main features of the program in an expositive way (2.5 hours). The following 5 hours were devoted to solving two problems on animal production individually. In the second methodology students worked in pairs during the first 2.5 hours to solve the first problem on animal production, and they solved the second problem individually during the second 2.5 hours. In both cases, students could spend additional time to complete the exercises. In the last methodology, the pairs were directed by the teacher so as one student in the pair has at least middle knowledge of the program and can show the other student the program. In both cases, the work was evaluated in accordance to the two main objectives: 70% the resolution of a problem in animal production and 30% the use of AutoCAD.
The results were evaluated in terms of satisfaction of the students (a survey designed in the Sakai platform “PoliformaT”) and in terms of results of the students. As a result, both methodologies achieved a good satisfaction, particularly in those students with lower knowledge of AutoCAD. Both methodologies also achieved similar results in terms of grades of the students, and prior knowledge had no effect on the final grade. Both methodologies allowed to fulfil the objectives, but the first methodology demanded 2.5 hours more than the second one. The combination of work in pairs and later individual work was considered to make better use of students and teacher time.
Keywords: background, autocad, previous knowledge, teaching technologies.