Cultivating ICT students' interpersonal soft skills in online teaching environments using traditional active learning techniques
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Flexible online delivery of tertiary ICT programs is experiencing rapid growth. Yet, creating an Online Learning Environment (OLE) that develops team building and interpersonal skills is difficult due to student isolation and the individual-centric model of learning that encourages discrete study rather than teamwork. Many students have negative perceptions of group work because of working in dysfunctional groups and feelings of unfairness in the assessment process. Despite this, employers still state that a key learning objective of ICT graduates is the ability to work in team environments as this mirrors work force requirements. Due to this need to produce graduates capable of working in a team environment group exercises and projects have become an important component of higher education (Blackman, 2012; Friedman, Cox, & Maher, 2008; Myers, Monypenny, & Trevathan, 2012). Interaction, articulation and interpersonal skills are extremely important for ICT professionals and to the development of quality ICT graduates. These skills increase the employability of graduates who can demonstrate effective communication skills with clients and colleagues (McMurtrey, Downey, Zeltmann, & Friedman, 2008). Yet, these skills are often overlooked within the curriculum, particularly with the recent shift towards online delivery (Chan, 2011). To enhance the OLE for students, there is a need to investigate what existing teaching methodologies and tools work in the traditional environment for fostering interpersonal skills. The challenge, then, is to determine whether traditional methodologies/tools can be effectively adopted in an online environment. Two identified active learning techniques that develop soft-skills in traditional face-to-face teaching environments include Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT). POGIL is a pedagogical method devised in 1994 from cooperative and collaborative learning techniques to teach process skills as well as content using an inquiry-based approach (Moog & Spencer, 2008). POGIL group sessions aim to guide students through an exploration to construct and refine comprehension of the content (POGIL, 2014). Currently, this method is predominantly implemented in Chemistry. However, we have found that the method lends itself to analytical problem solving in ICT and Computer Science (Myers et al., 2012). The IF-AT method transforms traditional multiple-choice testing into an interactive learning opportunity for students (Epstein, 2009). IF-AT uses a multiple-choice answer form to reinforce student learning and offer immediate feedback (Michaelsen, Knight, & Dee Fink, 2004). When used in groups, the IF-AT is particularly effective as a means for encouraging individual engagement and student-student interaction and peer instruction, encouraging active processing of course material and enhancing student learning (Blackman, 2012; Michaelsen et al., 2004). These proven "face-to-face" active learning methodologies foster interactions, team building and learning through highly structured group work. The key to these interactive group work techniques is that students are accountable to their peers. Accountability is a major factor in a professional environment and we aim to replicate this in an online environment. This report outlines the methods and results of a pilot study that integrated these effective face-to-face methods into OLEs to increase student engagement and participation. A framework of best practices and experiences is presented to articulate the recommendations and working models for using currently available collaborative tools to foster collaboration and interpersonal skills for students while working in virtual groups.
Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy