V. Gynnild

NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NORWAY)
The years after the turn of the century have witnessed unprecedented efforts intended at quality enhancement of higher education. The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG, 2015) is but one example. The overall aim is to meet the call for collaboration and increased transparency in courses and educational programs across Europe. The European Standards and Guidelines provide guidelines for key areas, but it does not outline concrete procedures. Institutions are often left with this challenge within frameworks set by national authorities.

This study offers a theoretical and principled approach to task design aimed at enhanced learning in science and engineering. The focus is on learning while task design is seen as an integral part of course design. The rationale for the study is the basic tenet that learning is most closely related to what the student does, not what the teacher does. Task design is seen as an indirect way of teaching; the nature of task largely determines focus of attention and time spent on learning activities. While the logic of this reasoning seems self-evident, the task design profession is still in its infancy and calls for constructive contributions to motivate local initiatives to professionalize efforts to improve learning. While tenets of task design of course must be different for different disciplinary areas, the focus in this study is on shared features of task design in mathematically based courses in science and engineering.

The research questions of this study are as follows:
• What could be key tenets of task design in science and engineering courses?
• In what way, and to what extent, could such tenets contribute to enhanced learning?

There is much data to illustrate the imbalance of between procedural versus conceptual knowledge in science and engineering courses. This could be explained by an inadequate emphasis on concepts in learning objectives, or as an expression of insufficient focus on design issues to materialize objectives. Rote and instrumental learning therefore have been, and still are, matters of concern in mathematically based courses and programs, and efforts have been invested in exploring what it means for students to be mathematically proficient. This study draws on key ideas as suggested by the literature in the area.

To construct a framework for task design requires a distinction between educational goals, and task/type genres to guide the design process and classroom activities. Comprehensive work in the US and elsewhere seem to agree on key goals in order to become mathematically proficient. A list of goals is identified, including an outline of task types/genres and adjoining learning activities. The study identifies key tenets of task design in mathematically based courses, and suggesting design tools that can be used in the construction and selection of tasks to be aligned with intended learning objectives. Finally, the applicability of the task design framework is discussed in relation to practical settings, and what it would require in terms of pedagogical skills and competencies to make proper use of it.