From Lecturing to an Online Strategy for the Building Envelope Course
A problematic learning situation in one of the courses in the Real Estate Valuation Technology program brought me to completely transform the pedagogical approach of the course. This change of direction, from lecturing to an online strategy, allowed my students to develop efficient work methods just as much as their competencies in the program! All of this took place in the fall of 2015 and was possible thanks to the Moodle digital learning environment.
The course in question, Building Envelope (221-EDB-DM), consists of 5 hours of theory per week. The students take the course in the third semester of the program and follow the same cohort throughout their studies. This course deals with the construction of exterior walls, roofs, structural floors, partitions, and the interior finish of commercial, industrial, or institutional buildings. I taught this course for the third time in the fall semester of 2015.
My first 2 presentations of this course were based on formal lectures broken up by PowerPoint presentations and construction videos. I found myself with an audience of students who were playing on their cellphones, their computers or who were completely asleep. I tried different activities such as news reports comprised of different columns, with a chief editor, columnists and researchers. This gave few results. I also tried round table discussions. Nothing but disappointment.
I needed to find a solution for this course, because I wanted my students to go further in their learning.
Towards New Pedagogical Strategies
As I am always on the lookout for new ways of doing things, challenges to undertake and improvements to make, I was looking for a pedagogical solution to this unsatisfactory situation. Then I learned that Moodle was available at my college. This tool was not totally unknown to me, as I had taken several courses about this platform. In addition, I was familiar with online learning as I had taken a course on this subject during my Master’s studies in college teaching. I saw myself heading towards e-learning and working to make the students more active in their own learning. I rolled up my sleeves and started to transform my course! Advancing towards new strategies to spark interest and facilitate learning!
To better structure my course:
- I developed my course notes following the guiding principles of supporting online students: using a variation of fonts, varying images, video capsules, informative, humorous or other types of break periods, etc.
- As often as possible I explained the usefulness of the task making links with the future work environment of my students, as much in building cost estimation as in real estate valuation.
During the first class of the course, which was held in the classroom, the students and I discussed the arrangement of the course for the semester. Approximately 80% of the course time would take place online. Each week, the students had tasks to carry out
- Read the course notes available on Moodle
- Watch the videos
- Complete the exercises: a series of questions based on the material that students had to answer in their own words
- Hand in the homework assignment: a summarized memory aid about the notions learned and connections to the learning objectives for the week.
Approximately 20% of the course time was reserved for on-site visits and a few short, mandatory in-class information sessions. Three practical assignments were given throughout the semester. These assignments could be completed in-class or elsewhere. One example of the practical assignments consisted of giving their opinion on the quality of the construction of the envelope of certain buildings, improving the design, and creating feasible and quality construction designs for various elements of buildings. These moments allowed students to put into practice what they had learned and to confront their understanding of the notions that they had learned during their individual work.
A New Method with Positive Outcomes
Seeing as the online course leaves students to choose when, where and how they do their learning, I noticed that this could significantly influence their motivation. These are my observations from the end of the semester:
- The content from the weekly summaries produced by the students clearly showed me that the students had better understood the subject matter.
- The summaries were complete and concise. The quality of the questions coming from the written summaries led me to believe that the students wanted to go beyond the course notes.
- The quality of the practical assignments demonstrated a better understanding of the subject matter. The last stage in the learning process was achieved.
I have the feeling that the new strategies that I put into place for this online course contributed to developing the students’ knowledge and this had a positive impact on their level of motivation. Incidentally, at the end of the semester, I surveyed the 20-some students in the course regarding several aspects about the strategies used. Here are some of the noteworthy results.
Some noteworthy results from a survey about the motivation of the students, and the efficiency of the learning strategies used in the course.
The experience seems to have paid off! The analysis of the general results indicates that employing effective pedagogical strategies and placing students at the heart of their learning is what should be done. And yes, the Moodle platform allowed me to put this principle into practice!
This experience has allowed me to realize just how necessary it is to make the students active and how I can guide them and help them grasp the essential knowledge. More motivated students, more competent and satisfied with the learning they have completed, this is what I am proud of!
Moreover, the majority of students did not consider it a disadvantage to work alone in front of a computer screen. It should be mentioned that the students in this course all know each other as they are in their 3rd semester of the program and the other courses in the program are taken in-class. I therefore believe that the socioaffective aspect of distance learning was less important in this context than for a program that is conducted entirely online.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the students in the Building Envelope course from the fall semester 2015 for having experimented with this method of learning for the first time, as well as Audrey Corbeil, with Profweb, who advised me and helped me analyse my experience. We have to adapt ourselves to a clientele that is used to interacting with a screen more than listening to a lecture. In my opinion, nothing is perfect, but it is up to us to make it as perfect as possible. I encourage all of my colleagues to try this experience, as it significantly impacts the competencies of our students.