TEAM PROJECTS IN DISTANCE LEARNING COURSES - AN EXPERIENCE REPORT
Since 2007 there is a distance learning course in Electrical Engineering (M.Sc.) at the University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt. The course is for people who work as an engineer and want to expand their knowledge. Students will study in part-time and reach the Master degree after 6 semesters. Currently there are 204 students enrolled and up to now 250 students were granted their degree.
Part of the course is a technical project in the 4th semester with a work-load of 7.5 ECTS – Credit-Points. In order to prepare the project work, a lecture in project management takes place beforehand. Each project has to be done in groups of 3 to 5 students under the supervision of a lecturer. Students form teams by themselves and select the topic from a list published beforehand.
During the development of the study course we had the intention that the students should get more practice in project management. They should get used to working with members who are located at widely spread places, which is quite common in international companies. And they should get the theoretical knowledge how project management will be done.
We expected that students are used to working in projects in their jobs. So this module has a great overlap to their daily work, so it will be easily done part-time. We thought it may be a bit boring for them, but according to evaluation papers, they like the projects very much.
The teachers who will offer projects have to consider some conditions:
• Projects must be done in 13 weeks maximum for part-time students
• Projects can be split up in tasks which are largely independent
• Projects have a limited need for resources e.g. measurement equipment.
In the beginning it was difficult to find projects. The subjects were strictly separated in the different specializations (Automation, Electronics and Energy Systems). In the meantime there are more projects than study groups although the number of students was largely increased. Also students make their own proposals for projects. And teachers offer some projects which are interdisciplinary. Projects trigger follow-up projects so there is continuity and development in the subjects.
Grading the projects is an additional problem. We have to give individual marks but also include the results of the team and in particular the quality of project management is part of the mark. Students write a report about their project and have to present their results. We decided, that the report can be written by one member of the team, but has to show which part each member contributed to the whole project. And each member of the team has to present a part of the results, so the teacher can assess the individual achievement.
We asked our students for feedback and got some unexpected results. The students are very interested in this module and like to do it although working in projects is their usual job. But in our study program they can pick the project they are most interested in and do it with the people they want to work with, which is not the case on the workplace.
In summary a research and development project is a positive contribution to the quality of learning and helps students to keep up their motivation. This is very important since a part-time degree course competes with private obligations and the challenges of engineering work in industry.