U. Heckel, U. Bach, A. Richert, S. Jeschke

RWTH Aachen University / IMA/ZLW&IfU (GERMANY)
Though higher engineering education lacks sufficient students in Germany in total, enormous numbers of students enrol to certain especial Technical Universities. In the winter term 2010/2011 approx. 1,600 students enrolled for mechanical engineering at RWTH (Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule) Aachen University challenging not only the university’s teacher’s didactical skills but also posing tremendous problems in terms of sufficient room capacities. Obviously, new concepts become necessary to solve these problems making modern technologies a key player. Modern information and communication technologies have already become a constant part of everyday life of the new generation of students. However, when it comes to higher education, the potential of new media has not yet been totally exploited. Concepts focussed on integrating new technologies such as audio response systems or mobile technologies into face-to-face lectures in order to increase interactivity. Only recently a new approach emerged bearing the potential of teaching increasingly large numbers of students entirely online and thus revolutionizing the higher education landscape: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). This paper aims at showing how MOOCs might help to tackle the challenges of teaching large student numbers especially in the engineering education disciplines and to solve infrastructure problems at the same time. A study carried out by IMA/ZLW & IfU (Institute of Information Management in Mechanical Engineering, Centre for Learning and Knowledge Management and Associated Institute for Management Cybernetics) of RWTH Aachen University focussed on analysing lectures with 1,000 or more listeners. First results show that actively involving students during lectures or classes is essential for successful learning outcomes, but is especially difficult regarding the large numbers of students. Experts in the field of engineering education express the urgent need for educating hands-on experiences in a problem-based learning setting in order to enable students to solve practical problems later on in their professional life. Though MOOCs mainly take place on the Internet they seem to highly motivate students to actively participate in the courses and to interact in a very practical manner with teachers and fellow students by using social and technical networks. As demonstrated by Khan Academy or the online lectures of Prof. Thrun and Prof. Norvig at Stanford University, MOOCs can be used to teach enormous amounts of students (160,000 students followed the Stanford lecture on Artificial Intelligence and 23,000 earned a certificate). The paper analyses the potential of MOOCs for tackling the challenges imposed by large numbers of students in engineering education. Furthermore, it dwells on different implications posed by MOOCs for individuals (teachers, students), organizations (university administration) and technologies (video-based lectures, social media etc.). Future perspectives for a new didactical paradigm in engineering education are thus conveyed.