UNIVERSITY of Southern Queensland’s Dr Alexander Kist has been honoured with a prestigious award for his work developing an online tool that enhances learning experiences for external engineering students.
Dr Kist was awarded the 2014 Australian Council of Engineering Deans Award for Engineering Education Excellence last week at the Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference in New Zealand.
“I’m quite excited to receive this award,” Dr Kist said.
“Some excellent people have won it in the past so to be recognised alongside them is quite exciting.”
The $5000 prize was awarded for excellence in learning outcomes via degree programs or other significant initiatives that have produced outstanding and enduring outcomes.
Dr Kist said when he joined USQ Toowoomba in 2006 he found about 80 percent of his students were studying externally from throughout Australia and overseas.
“This posed challenges for teaching in terms of finding ways to provide continuing feedback, creating a sense of community and ensuring the development of transferable skills such as communication and critical evaluation skills,” Dr Kist said.
“Therefore, I embarked on a journey to create an online learning tool called Select, Prepare and Investigate, Discuss, Evaluate and Reflect (SPIDER) to provide equitable learning opportunities for external engineering students.
“SPIDER is based on a learning activity and assessment strategy, which incorporates many of the key activities associated with student seminars and workshops.
“The tool’s main features include its ability to manage seminars and technical topic selection, content preparation, capacity for students to perform investigative and background research, discussions, peer evaluation, and reflection.
“SPIDER has evolved into a comprehensive learning activity rather than a simple assessment task in which student activities are constructively aligned and students are allowed to practice generic skills and build domain knowledge independent of their study mode.”
Dr Kist said SPIDER has had a profound impact on the way students engaged with their course’s subject matter.
“Using my own evaluation instrument (Kist, 2010), I found that as a result of SPIDER, 82 percent of students believed they learned practical skills that will help in their workplace, 89 percent believed they were better equipped to write reports and 87 percent believed they would handle presentations better in the future.
“In addition, 90 percent of respondents indicated they enjoyed these activities while 80 percent wanted to see similar activities in other courses.
“This was particularly encouraging as 60 percent of the respondents were working full-time and 27.5 percent working part-time, had an average age of 30 and reported a considerable amount of work experience.”
Dr Kist said SPIDER had also fostered student development by stimulating curiosity and independence in learning by giving students the opportunity to research content independently and share their findings with peers.
“Evidence shows the SPIDER approach inspires and motivates students through high-level communication, presentation and interpersonal skills,” he said.
“Benefits include sustained higher student engagement and better student outcomes as evidenced by sustained positive student feedback and improved grades from external students.
“Data suggests SPIDER helps students learn skills that are relevant to their professional life and makes them more of an asset to industry.”
Dr Kist said some of his USQ colleagues were now adapting the tool for use in three additional courses.
“Just recently a professional practice course with 500 students used the tool to provide feedback as part of students’ final year project presentations.”
As well as last week’s award, Dr Kist’s work in developing SPIDER has also been recognised by USQ with the University’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2011, and nationally through an OLT Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning in 2013.
Photo by David Martinelli: Dr Alexander Kist, Senior Lecturer (Telecommunications), USQ School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.