On Tuesday June 15th 2021, the HR webinar AUNEGe / eLene4Life brought together nearly fifty participants (teachers, students and company representatives) to discuss the questions:
How does soft skills training take place in a large company?
How can universities better prepare students to develop so-called transversal skills such as teamwork, creativity and problem solving?
Sébastien Créno, President of BlueMega, made the link between soft skills and corporate culture. For this company, taken over in 2013 by its employees after a bankruptcy, participatory management is at the heart of this culture, and special attention is paid to maintaining the values of the company when new staff are recruited.
Éloïse Sevestre, Training Manager at Air Liquide, highlighted how employees are supported in the development of their soft skills. In this large company, soft skills training represents 60% of the training plan. A concrete example is the training of first-time managers, who learn to give feedback, to be a leader as much as a manager, and to lead change.
Deborah Arnold, National and International Projects Coordinator at AUNEGe, presented the results of the Erasmus+ project eLene4Life, coordinated by AUNEGe. Deborah focused on the Dynamic Toolkit – a collection of 30 teaching methods to help higher education teachers to introduce active approaches to help students develop their soft skills and announced the adaptation of this resource in the form of a micro-course for companies which is currently being finalized. The eLene4Life Community of Practice was also highlighted as a space for continuing the cross-fertilisation conversations and activities between higher education and the corporate sector.
Thanks to this webinar, launched by Christophe Fournier, President of AUNEGe, and chaired expertly by Élodie Loubaresse, member of the AUNEGe board, the participants were able to appreciate the growing importance of these transversal skills to strengthen the links between university studies and the expectations and practices of the business world.
Additional material: presentation of the eLene4Life Dynamic Toolkit and Community of Practice.
Valeria Baudo & Alessandra Tomasini (METID-Politecnico di Milano); Deborah Arnold, AUNEGe
People often think of active learning as something you do in the classroom, or even outdoors, but with a bit of thought and preparation, active learning can be done online, and online learning should be as active as possible (Khan et al., 2017; Salmon, 2013).
With the emergency switch to remote teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of Zoom lectures, which are tiring for both teachers and students, and certainly not the most effective way of engaging learners, in particular when it comes to developing soft skills.
The eLene4Life project has put together a collection of 30 active learning methods for soft skills development, described in practical terms in the eLene4Life Dynamic Toolkit. In fact over half of these methods are tagged as being relevant for, and possible in, an online learning context.
These methods are currently being piloted in five countries (France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom). Again, due to the pandemic, some of the pilots which were initially planned face to face had to be adapted rapidly to an online modality.
This blog post is thus the first in our eLene4Life active online learning series, to provide you with concrete examples which we hope will inspire you.
Here we look at the first two examples from the eLene4Life pilots at Politecnico di Milano (Polimi), which were run entirely online. The second blog post in the series will look at two more, which were run both face to face and online. And we of course welcome further guest posts on the topic, with the possibility of integrating new methods into the Dynamic Toolkit.
Feedback Exchange is an exchange of information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify his or her thinking or behaviour to improve learning. It should be non-evaluative, supportive, timely, and specific.
We used this methodology in the “Economics and Computation” course, a course taught in the 2nd year of the Master Degree at Polimi and attended by almost 60 students. It is based on a flipped learning model and at the end the students are involved in a challenge to solve complex problems. This course is intended to be based largely on interaction among students since it is based on group work. In the original plan (pre-covid19) the teacher is in class and gives students real time feedback about the work done. The teacher has previous experience in innovative teaching and active learning and, during the Spring semester 2020, he decided to develop the formative assessment part by using a rubric to give students formative feedback on teamwork performance.
The pilot experience was conducted completely online due to the pandemic and the initial design of the teaching experience did not change. The students are divided into groups and they interact online through Microsoft Teams for completing a challenge to solve the complex problem provided by the teacher. During the course, more than one challenge was conducted. At the end of each challenge, every student provides a self assessment via a rubric provided by the teacher in order to evaluate the teamwork process as it occurred in the group. The teacher, looking at the rubric filled in by students and thanks to the observation conducted online (skimming online from the room of one group to another during the challenge), provides feedback about the teamwork and gives suggestions for improvement. After that a new challenge occurs with the same process. The final feedback by the teacher is intended to give the students an overview about their teamwork skills.
How to implement it online
Implementing this structure online was not particularly tricky and it was effective. The course itself was designed in a way suitable for online use only. The most difficult thing was to observe the challenge online since the students were not in the same physical room but spread across virtual ones and it was necessary to jump between rooms. But the rubrics provided by the students were extremely useful and they were designed from the outset to be completed online. It is interesting to note that the dynamics of the groups did not change in the online setting.
Classroom response system
Classroom response systems are widely used in traditional face to face settings in order to stimulate the attention of students during a lecture and to improve engagement.
These are interactive remote answering devices that offer instructors a means to gain some simple real-time feedback from the audience, and are also known as electronic student response systems, clickers, personal response systems, student response systems, or audience response systems.
How to implement it online
Polimi teachers were used to using this tool (in particular Socrative) in the traditional face to face setting. Due to the lockdown we moved the teaching completely online. The use of active learning methodologies in an online setting in a large classroom was scary at the beginning and challenging too. The active learning was developed in a course called “Structure of Matter : Principles and Applications” attended in the third year of the Bachelor degree in Engineering Physics at Politecnico di Milano. This entailed proposing a complex exercise (one for each of the four modules of the course) to the students, who had one week to solve it individually, at home. After one week, they had to upload the solution on the Politecnico di Milano LMS (called BEEP). During the following lesson, some points of the exercise were debated by means of teacher-paced classroom response system quizzes (through Socrative), whereas the most difficult ones were developed by the professors and then discussed with the students.
Since the course is attended by a high number of students, the use of Socrative quizzes helped us to understand if some students had particular problems about some specific points of the exercise, whereas the majority of the time was dedicated to the discussion of the most complex parts of the exercise. In this case, we encouraged the direct participation of the students, by sharing with them some hints to correctly solve the specific points and listening to their doubts. Socrative was used as a self-assessment moment for students, proposing questions to verify the acquired knowledge.
After testing this methodology online we can say that active learning is appreciated by the students. The novel situation related to the COVID pandemic has revealed that active learning can be performed even with online classes, without modifying the planned individual learning outcomes (ILOs) and it was very successful. Although this was performed completely online, we plan to reproduce it also in the classroom setting once the pandemic emergency is over. Using a classroom response system in an online setting was something that we would not have imagined doing if COVID19 had not happened, because we were used to using it in the traditional classroom setting. However, at the end of the experience, we can say that moving it online was easier than expected, since we experienced that the most important thing is a careful design of the teaching activity and, if this is done well, moving it online just requires some minor adjustment.
Tips and hints for moving active learning online
If we intend to use a tool or a methodology for a specific need we must not only check if this need occurs in the online setting too, but also adapt it. For instance a part of our designed experience of active learning was related to peer exchange after Socrative. This was too complicated to manage online so we decided to not implement this part, but this lack did not affect the whole learning experience since the students were positively surprised at receiving an “active learning approach” also in an online setting.
The two examples described above are techniques integrated in a wider ‘challenge-based learning’ approach. Readers might be interested in exploring further the soft skills which can be developed through related approaches such as online project-based learning, for example self-regulated learning, motivation and group collaboration (Yilmaz et al., 2020).
Based on our experience we can say: active learning in an online setting? Yes we can! (and maybe we must!).
Khan, A., Egbue, O., Palkie, B., & Madden, J. (2017). Active learning: Engaging students to maximize learning in an online course. Electronic Journal of E-Learning, 15(2), 107-115. Retrieved June 29th 2020 from http://www.ejel.org/volume15/issue2
Salmon, G. (2013). E-tivities: The key to active online learning. Routledge.
Yilmaz, R., Karaoglan Yilmaz, F.G., & Keser, H. (2020). Vertical versus shared e-leadership approach in online project-based learning: a comparison of self-regulated learning skills, motivation and group collaboration processes. Journal of Computing in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-020-09250-2
From February 12th to 13th 2020, the eLene partners came together in Bremen, Germany for the third transnational partner meeting of the eLene4Life project. The meeting was hosted by ZMML, the centre for multimedia in teaching at Bremen University.
This meeting comes at the half-way point of the 36-month eLene4Life project, which is exploring cross-fertilisation between the higher education and corporate sectors to foster greater uptake of active learning approaches for soft skills development.
During this meeting we not only celebrated a very positive and encouraging evaluation of our progress report for the first half of the project, but also the 16th anniversary of the second-ever meeting of the eLene group, which took place in Bremen back in 2004! It’s amazing to realise that after all this time (and 5 projects already completed) the historic partners METID-Politecnico de Milano, AUNEGe and ZMML-Bremen are still present, joining forces with new members over the years, currently Fondazione Politecnico di Milano, European University Colleges Association (EucA), Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta (LUMSA), Warsaw University of Technology and the University of Dundee. What’s interesting about the evolution of the group is that sometimes it’s the people who stay the same, bringing in new institutions when they change jobs, or new people from existing organisations join the team, and very quickly absorb what we call the ‘eLene spirit’ of collaboration, mutual respect, commitment and creative thinking.
So, where are we now with the project? We have produced two in-depth reports on active learning for soft skills development, one for the HE sector, one for the corporate sector. We have produced digests of these in the form of short presentations, and the first Lessons Learned Kit. We have also developed a Dynamic Toolkit, in the form of guidelines for 30 different active learning methods to support teachers. These are currently being piloted in 5 countries. We have also set up and begun to populate the online spaces which support the growing Community of Practice and have organised national events for teachers, trainers, human resources managers and students to engage in discussion and collaboration. We presented eLene4Life at the 2019 EDEN Annual Conference in Bruges and the ICDE 2019 World Conference on online learning in Dublin, as well as at many other national and international events, helping us reach over 600 people already.
And so, what’s next? A series of further events in Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom. The development of a discussion-based MOOC for teachers drawing on the results of the pilot projects. The production of two more Lessons learned Kits. And the continued development of the Community of Practice, including the opportunity for guest blog posts right here on the elene4Life hub.
We have our work cut out for us over the next 18 months, but I’m confident we will achieve our goals thanks to the high level of commitment of all involved, and the growing interest from all the people who’ve attended our events.
National and international projects coordinator
AUNEGe – digital university for management and economics, France