Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Investing in educational technology in the times of the Greek financial recession

Sextos, A.G. (2013) “A Paperless Course on Structural Engineering Programming: investing in educational technology in the times of the Greek financial recession”, European Journal of Engineering Education. 

This paper presents the structure of an undergraduate course entitled ‘programming techniques and the use of specialised software in structural engineering’ which is offered to the fifth (final) year students of the Civil Engineering Department of Aristotle University Thessaloniki in Greece. The aim of this course is to demonstrate the use of new information technologies in the field of structural engineering and to teach modern programming and finite element simulation techniques that the students can in turn apply in both research and everyday design of structures. The course also focuses on the physical interpretation of structural engineering problems, in a way that the students become familiar with the concept of computational tools without losing perspective from the engineering problem studied. For this purpose, a wide variety of structural engineering problems are studied in class, involving structural statics, dynamics, earthquake engineering, design of reinforced concrete and steel structures as well as data and information management. The main novelty of the course is that it is taught and examined solely in the computer laboratory ensuring that each student can accomplish the prescribed ‘hands-on’ training on a dedicated computer, strictly on a 1:1 student over hardware ratio. Significant effort has also been put so that modern educational techniques and tools are utilised to offer the course in an essentially paperless mode. This involves electronic educational material, video tutorials, student information in real time and exams given and assessed electronically through an ad hoc developed, personalised, electronic system. The positive feedback received from the students reveals that the concept of a paperless course is not only applicable in real academic conditions but is also a promising approach that significantly increases student productivity and engagement. The question, however, is whether such an investment in educational technology is indeed timely during economic recession, where the academic priorities are rapidly changing. In the light of this unfavourable and unstable financial environment, a critical overview of the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats of this effort is presented herein, hopefully contributing to the discussion on the future of higher education in the time of crisis.
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