טכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל
הטכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל - בית הספר ללימודי מוסמכים  
Ph.D Thesis
Ph.D StudentUsher Maya
SubjectInnovation in a Project-Based Engineering Course: Comparing
Between Face-to-Face and Online Learners
DepartmentDepartment of Education in Science and Technology
Supervisor Professor Miriam Barak
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


Abstract

Innovation is conceptualized as a process of generating novel ideas and turning them into practical solutions. Innovation has been identified as a key factor for growth and success in the 21st century, and hence, as a vital competency for engineering graduates. Despite its great importance, the literature offers few tools for measuring innovation in team projects. Moreover, in the context of engineering education, little attention has been devoted to team diversity and its effect on project innovation. The need to explore innovation in team projects intensifies in the context of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which provide learners with the opportunity to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds. Such a global and collaborative experience might stimulate new ideas, yet, it is still unclear whether and how it might affect the innovation capabilities of science and engineering students.

In light of the aforesaid, the goal of the current study was to characterize and examine innovation in a project-based engineering course, while comparing between face-to-face and online learners. The study participants were six experts in nanotechnology, and 320 science and engineering students who took the course Nanotechnology and Nanosensors. The study compared between three groups: face-to-face (F2F) university students (n=103), online university students (n=108), and MOOC learners (n=109). The participants were required to work on a project in small teams and perform peer assessment. Applying the sequential exploratory mixed-methods design, qualitative and quantitative data were collected through interviews with nanotechnology experts, an online innovative thinking questionnaire, a demographic survey, and document analysis of students’ learning outcomes.

Findings from the interviews led to the generation of an assessment tool for identifying the innovation level of nanotechnology team projects. The comparison between the research groups revealed a preference for the F2F university students. This group outperformed the online groups with regards to the team projects’ innovation level, the quality of peer assessment, and the participants’ ability to channel the team diversity variables in their favor. On the other hand, the MOOC learners reported themselves as presenting behaviors that are more compatible with innovative thinkers, showing a limited ability to calibrate between perceived innovative thinking and actual innovation in team projects.

Guided by the sociocultural theory, this study is unique in providing a new perspective on innovation, in the context of engineering education. The study poses innovation as a process of communicating different knowledge systems and thinking styles among learners from diverse academic and national backgrounds. It provides a useful theoretical contribution to understanding the profound role of the project-based learning approach in promoting the higher-order cognitive skill of innovation, among face-to-face and online learners. The research methodological contribution includes the development of two new classifications. The first is the Team Project Innovation (TPI) assessment tool for identifying and measuring innovation in nanotechnology team projects. The second is the Peer Feedback Quality (PFQ) taxonomy for identifying and measuring the quality of students’ peer feedback. The research practical contribution includes guidelines for developing innovation-promoting project-based courses for science and engineering students in F2F and online environments.