Our lecturers have found ways for students unable to travel to New Zealand to nevertheless successfully complete their qualifications.

Otago Polytechnic delivers several engineering qualifications from certificate to degree level for international students who begin studies in their own country. Before the COVID-19 pandemic affected international travel, these students were able to come to New Zealand to complete their programme, where they could engage in multi-disciplinary project-based learning (PBL). With travel restrictions  in 2020, the lecturers needed to pivot their delivery to a new offshore online model that still required the students to apply technical content to a practical working model. 

Avinda Weerakoon and Nathan Dunbar took the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of this new model. They asked learners to provide specific feedback about working in virtual teams and in the online environment. Analysis of this feedback revealed themes:

  • Communication: It took more effort to arrange and coordinate communication online. Students working on group projects recognised the need for more communication, but also realised that asynchronous communication through a chat function could have advantages too.
  • Teamwork: Students found it harder to get to know other team members online and reported feeling reluctant to bother them.
  • Technical content: Working with a partner institution in the students' own country, the team could ensure students had internet access, the necessary software installed on the devices they were using, and a LEGO EV3 kit each. There were some difficulties, for example using a fixed  webcam to demonstrate their working models.

Overall, feedback from the students was positive and the project outcomes were similar to those of cohorts in previous years in a face-to-face classroom environment. Students are familiar with online tools for personal use, but still need support to succeed in adapting to an online learning environment. This includes identifying ways to overcome problematic aspects of online work. Such experiences help to prepare students to make successful transition into workplaces where they may also be working in online teams at times.

June 2022