ENCOURAGING STUDENTS TO PARTICIPATE IN ACADEMIC COMPLEMENTARY ACTIVITIES
One of the key points in the Bologna process is that students should acquire skills, in addition to knowledge. That is why, apart from the traditional exams, other pre-defined activities are also considered in order to calculate the student final grade. Examples of common activities are, e.g. participation in the class, problem solving, discussions of selected topics, experimental work, etc. However, these activities may become routine and most of the times are only oriented to strictly academic aspects. Therefore, a portfolio of more varied, complementary activities are usually offered to students, in order to motivate them in the learning process. These activities may include, e.g., the organization of conferences by prominent experts in certain fields, visits to selected production centers (as an initial way to introduce students in the labor market) or the participation in contests sponsored by other organizations, usually aimed at identifying new talent or ideas. No doubt that these initiatives usually boost the motivation of students and help them to perceive a more complete educational process. The problem with this approach is that, considering the large number of subjects that students need to pass to get their diploma, this may result in an excessive number of overall activities, possibly leading to a depreciation of the perceived value of these activities. In short, students, instead of being encouraged by these activities, may end up overwhelmed.
In order to overcome this issue, which could jeopardize the learning process by introducing too much routine, we propose the following approach. First, the management of the complementary activities offered to students would be carried out as a whole for a complete academic year. The tutor of the course (a figure that is common in many educational systems) would manage this portfolio and would schedule activities in order to avoid time conflicts. This would avoid undesirable (but usual) situations, as having most of the activities in the different subjects planned in the same month. Then, a fair scoring system would be devised, assigning a certain score to each activity depending on its duration, difficulty, etc. With this, students would receive points depending on how they do in these activities during the academic year. The goal would be to finish, at the end of the academic year, as high as possible in this activity ranking. This implies that students should score in most of the activities in order to excel, instead of just selecting those that are easier or more enjoyable. Finally, those students who had topped the ranking at the end of the year would receive an award in order to recognize their effort and dedication. This award should meet some criteria in order to be effective: i) be tangible (a diploma/certificate is fine, but not too motivating in some cases); ii) be practical (students should see a quick use of it); iii) be educational (money or purely recreational items are not a solution). Awards should be decided in each situation and would vary depending on the academic course level. Examples of possible awards could range from computer equipment or bibliography (for students in lower levels) to a visit to an international research center, where students in upper levels could get acquainted to a professional environment.
Of course, this score system would also have an effect in the final grades, as usual, thus counting towards the official academic results.