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TEACHING: VIRTUAL OR PRESENTIAL TUTORSHIPS. APPLICATION TO EXPERIMENTAL SUBJECTS AT THE CHEMICAL ENGINEERING FIELD

A. Elias, N. Azpiazu, L. Gurtubay, G. Ibarra, N. Rojo, G. Gallastegi

University of Basque Country (SPAIN)
Teaching experimental subjects implies the assessment of the reports made by the students summarizing their laboratory results. The final qualification is based not only on this report but also on their attitude in the lab. That is why tutorials are often the key to assess students’ knowledge.

Until recently, the tutorials of the chosen subject, Experimentation in Chemical Engineering I in the third year of the Chemical Engineering grade, used to be presential. Consequently, students used to attend personally to consult their questions prior to drafting the report of the practice. At that moment students seem to be just interested in knowing if their results were on track and whether they had obtained the expected graphic representations or not. During these academic assistance tutorials we generally can not dedicate enough time to key factors such as data processing, Excel application understanding, etc.

In this course we performed a pilot project of virtual tutorials. We assume as virtual tutorials both the queries raised about doubts that the student had prior to the report elaboration, as well as the process of delivering the report. Thus, the students were requested to deliver documents in Word format with active graphs linked to the Excel pages. Likewise they also had to attach the Excel files in order to allow the teacher to review all data, formulas, calculations, etc. Therefore we examined in depth the experimental work done by the student and followed the further development of the report based on the data obtained in the laboratory.

While students were initially reluctant to online assistance, they have been highly interested in the delivery of reports telematically. Online queries of doubts, as they admitted, make them assume greater responsibilities as they should consider and write their doubts in a proper and more seriously way. They assume that a wrongly formulated question could be potentially harmful for their final qualifications. Despite this discrepancy, the experience was carried out successfully and the obtained information has been extremely rewarding to detect numerical errors as well as a wrong interpretation of the results, theoretical shortcomings to draw conclusions and so on. A fluid communication between teachers and students has enabled a quick solution of these problems and has motivated them to improve the report elaboration of the next practice session.

We must try to make students overcome their fear of ridicule, since this slows their learning. Technical discussions between students and/or teachers always disclose theoretical concepts that were supposed to be known but actually are not, which could be translated into difficulties in further topic applications. Nowadays, students are incredibly skillful at computer management and communication resources, but they refuse to interact with the group because they are afraid of being mistaken. They seem to think that they do not know how to express their knowledge adequately or that their ideas may be absolutely wrong.
Encouraging personal and professional growth of those students who hide in the anonymity of the group has to be our goal to let their inner potential emerge around.

Acknowledgements:
The authors acknowledge the University of the Basque Country (UPV nº R-5734-2009/201) for the financial support for the project.