In the middle of the Spring 2020 academic term, schools were suddenly forced to adapt themselves to a completely online offer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Professors were forced to learn, change, and adjust their courses on the fly. Now, in the middle of a complete online academic system, colleagues from the Engineering Department of Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) are constantly exchanging their best practices, not only in terms of teaching activities but evaluation practices that we think are among the most effective to prevent plagiarism and assess the students learning according to these new circumstances.

In a pleasant virtual atmosphere of camaraderie, nice ideas have been proposed, replicated, complemented, and given feedback by the peers. This is a summary of them:

Work harder on the exams

Despite the effort that this implies, we are in dire need of changing the format, content, and dynamics of our exams. The most common actions are:

  • Design more and more questions; enlarge our pools of closed questions.
  • Set the available time to a reasonable but tight time.
  • Do not repeat exams from previous terms, especially if they contain closed questions. Modifying and personalize critical values in engineering problems always work to change a question. For example, using the last digits of the IDs.
  • Increase the open questions where small answers are enough.
  • Foster the “writing in your own words” questions.
  • Request the submission of support files (with calculations, images, graphs, videos, etc.)
  • Design the evaluation with more challenging open questions with free (but tight) time and open book and notes.
  • Add a little of competition.
  • The submission time can be graded. Early submissions can be rewarded.
  • Run programming codes that track file’s origin.
  • Ask for small videos (1 to 3 minutes) in which students prepare an elevator speech of their work.

Squeeze the online learning platform

At UDEM we have been using Blackboard platform for years. Now with the conjoint use of Zoom, we have learned to make the most of many of their features:

  • All cameras on, as a compulsory requirement to present an exam.
  • Enable the random order of questions from larger pools.
  • One question at a time, prohibiting backtracking.
  • Forcing completion with automatic submission when time is up.
  • Generation of calculated formula questions.
  • Using Lockdown browsers when possible.
  • Individual rooms in Zoom with everybody sharing their screen in their own rooms, where students can ask their individual questions without interrupting others.
  • Recording the sessions.

Change the exams

I mean the activity itself, not just the instrument. This implies to increase the intensity of active learning activities, POL, PBL, gamification, among other learning techniques, that can be applied at home. Examples that we have used in our engineering classes are:

  • Home-made short experiments with kitchen recipes or with paper airplanes in the Design of Experiments class.
  • A pendulum lab with coins in the Physics class.
  • Analysis of household materials in the Materials class.
  • Legos assembly in the Manufacturing class.
  • Identification and priorization of risks at home, in the Industrial Security class.
  • Autonomous and preventive maintenance to home appliances and family automobiles.
  • 5’s project at home in the Quality class.
  • The use of collaborative apps to innovation and improvement projects at home (Agile, Kanban, Scrum, etc.).
  • Application of the continuous improvement cycle with simple experiments, such as a balloon and a pin.
  • Mechatronic projects for home: smart mailbox, home security system, smart rice cooker, safe with remote activation, automatic irrigation system for the garden, etc.

Not all is for worse

It is very gratifying to perceive the student’s satisfaction of seeing the results of their engineering projects applied at home, and sharing them with their families. In addition, some activities’ features allay their stress such as clearer and simpler questions, more detailed instructions, and less stressing conditions (e.g. open resources).

It is our job to create an environment in which we all understand that there is a trade-off between the freedoms that we enjoy in a virtual learning environment and the renunciation of certain comforts that we used to enjoy in face-to-face learning. For us, as teachers, definitely, any of these options demand much more work. No doubt about it! What it takes to create a virtual environment that prevents cheating and foster true learning.