A Collaborative Program-based Approach Supported by Technology
While he was the person responsible for the course Integrated Placement (Stage d’intégration), offered as part of the 5th semester in the Electrotechnology program, Denis noticed that students had some training gaps in communication, even though this was included within the program objectives. In their placement term reports, the students had to describe 3 problematic situations. Communication skills were a recurring theme. To counteract this difficulty, Denis started integrating some communication theory into his course in order to better prepare his students.
On the recommendation of one of his colleagues, he called Mélanie Langlois-Sabourin, a teacher from the Psychology department who volunteered to offer a 6 hour workshop on interpersonal skills to Denis’ students.
I have to say that my colleagues and I are preoccupied with providing content which is grounded in the reality of the programs that are served by the Psychology department; I’m thinking particularly of Pre-hospital Emergency Care and Police Technology programs.
During a program evaluation that was held in 2014, the analysis of the placement term reports led to a decision to reinforce communication concepts for students in a more systematic way, to prepare them for their placement and their insertion into the labour market. From this decision a collaborative interdepartmental approach was born which continues to this day.
Setting Up a Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Approach
To support the development of interpersonal skills for students in a client-centred approach, a new course was added to the Electrotechnology program during the Winter semester of 2015. This course, which is entitled the Service-based Approach (Approche service), was given by the Psychology department. Since Mélanie was the person responsible, we were fortunate to continue our collaboration.
I saw a symbiotic opportunity between our 2 courses which were being offered within the same semester, since theypromoted a genuine program-based approach – the students put what they learned in the Service-based Approach course into practice within my course. What’s more, this approach helped to ensure that they were better prepared for their placement terms and for the workplace.
The Service-based Approach course aims to prepare students for different communication contexts that they may encounter during their placement term and within the labour market, such as active listening and conflict resolution.
We cover how to react to clients, a superior and colleagues within different contexts. The students learn how to better handle difficult situations. I created a collection of situations that closely approximate their professional realities.
In order to stay abreast of what students from the Development of Control Software course (which precedes the placement term) are being taught,and to take it into account, Denis attended Mélanie’s class. This allowed him to occasionally add some real-world examples.
I was a bit hesitant in the beginning to let Denis attend the class, but I loved the experience. He participated and would occasionally intervene by establishing links with different types of situations. It ended up being very natural for the students.
In Development of Control Software, Denis created video clips of the students while they were working on the development of the software assignment in teams. Mélanie used these videos in the Service-based Approach course for assignments as well as for the certification evaluation. The use of a practical authentic situation provides the advantage of giving a sense to the learning that takes place in each of our respective courses.
The students also appreciated this synergy between the 2 courses. The realistic situational questions result in more depth, consistency, reality and credibility for the subject matter that is taught in the 2 courses. We no longer hear questions like “Why do we need to learn this?” As for the camera, the students don’t put up any resistance – they quickly forget that it is there.
Promoting Communication and Collaboration Between the Students
In the Development of Control Software course, students have to develop object-oriented programming competencies by using a rapid application development environment. In order to allow the development of software that is sufficiently complex to put the theory that is taught into practice, students are placed within a context that closely resembles the reality of the labour market where, hired by a fictional employer, they have to work in teams of 4 or 5 to respond to specifications laid out in a work order from a fictional client.
This situational problem also led us to discover a problem related to the communication skills of the students between themselves, which existed well before the implementation of an interdisciplinary approach.
Rapid application development environment.
Denis integrated a number of digital tools in his teaching and in the projects that he suggested to students in order to promote communication and collaboration with his group and between the members of each team.
The students shared a folder in a cloud-based storage service of their choice (like Dropbox or Google Drive) where they stored parts of their development code, as well as all the documentation for their programming project (UML diagram, Gantt chart, user manual, etc.). Denis is currently exploring Google Team Drive.
While they are working on their assignment, students also use on-line tools like LucidChart and Gantter to create UML diagrams and Gantt charts. The integration of these 2 tools with Google Drive facilitates file sharing and collaboration.
A glimpse of Gantter, the on-line tool for editing Gantt charts.
A glimpse of Lucidchart, the on-line diagramming tool.
By sharing the Google Drive folder with me, I can access my students’ programming projects at any time, which facilitates interaction with and between the members of the team.
In conclusion, we have received a number of positive comments from our students as much about the pairing of the 2 courses as the use of the various collaborative tools. The feedback from the placement environments is also very encouraging. The cooperation between our 2 courses not only promotes a program-based approach (rather than an approach which aggregates courses), but their is also a synergistic effect on the learning. It is our hope that our experience will inspire other collaborations.