VIRTUAL TOURS OF INDUSTRIES AS A TOOL FOR ZOOMING IN STUDENTS TO INDUSTRIAL REALITY IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATE STUDIES
COVID-19 pandemic is transforming society in profound ways. Hence, in an effort to curb its spread, governments around the world had moved to suspend face-to-face teaching in universities. For this reason, the COVID-19 presented a unique challenge that made it unclear how to apply past lessons. In science and engineering undergraduate studies, it is very important the contact with the industrial reality. Thus, industry tours could be considered as a strategic educational resource and an effective way to bring the industrial sector closer to students. Industry tours become an excellent opportunity to learn about the business fabric, its internal functioning, infrastructure, activities, processes, facilities, equipment, process management systems, as well as hygiene, safety and environmental protocols. Among the main benefits of this activity are that it helps to identify future professional vocations and allows to establish bridges between the theoretical knowledge acquired by the students and the activity developed by the company, becoming a complementary alternative to traditional teaching systems in universities.
As a result of the global situation and the measures and action protocols that universities and all companies have implemented in the face of COVID-19, industry tours have been completely cancelled or limited to a reduced number of students. Therefore, in an attempt to adapt the subjects, in which this activity was carried out, to new teaching methodologies in accordance with the virtual nature, a methodology has been developed that we call virtual industry tours. In this case, the university does not take the students to the companies, but they are the ones who, through the use of virtual resources, are introduced into the university.
When virtual tours are included, the course content has to be customized in order to adequately prepare the students, and assure optimum learning results. This paper describes the planning of virtual site tours within the context of an undergraduate on science and engineering course, with a special focus on the use of web-based technologies and collaborative learning strategies, as well as the final assessment of the experience. As in face-to-face teaching activities, when designing the course, the industrial sectors related to the subject and its contents are taken into account. In this case, by not requiring the students to travel, a greater number of target industries are covered and the focus is not only on those existing in the surrounding area. Before carrying out the activity, students must prepare the virtual visit by reading the support material provided and searching for complementary information under the guidance of the lecturer. The degree of involvement of the companies and the resources they use in the development of the tour is of vital importance to achieve the final goal.
The virtual tours allowed:
i) to carry out a greater number of visits,
ii) no loss of travel time,
iii) overcome the usual capacity limitations, and
iv) a greater interaction between the company's speaker and the students.
A survey is given at the end of the course to measure student perceptions of the experience, and the results support the usefulness of the activity.