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Summary  
Written description  
Animated description (with sound)  
Application to the Fluid Mechanics course  
Creation of the animations  

Motivation

The traditional teaching model at the Engineering Department consists of a series of lectures, followed by a series of two-on-one supervisions (tutorials), at a rate of one supervision to four lectures. Between the lectures and the supervisions, students work on problems in their own time, spending around eight hours preparing for each hour long supervision.

At the supervisions, we discuss the mechanics of solving the problems and the concepts behind those problems. I find that we often spent too much time on the former and not enough time on the latter. My motivation for this project was to find a way to help students solve problems before the supervision so that they would be better prepared for the conceptual discussion and have fewer questions on the mechanics of solving problems.

The same questions tend to arise in supervisions year after year. After the first year of supervising the third year Fluid Mechanics Course, I created a set of on-line materials to help students during their study between lectures and supervisions.

Assessment of the Third Year Fluid Mechanics additional materials

In the second year that the additional materials were available, I assessed their impact on the students and supervisors with the help of a grant from the Cambridge-M.I.T. Institute (CMI). The impact was generally very positive, with supervisors commenting that students were progressing further than normal in the questions and that they had more time for conceptual discussions in supervisions. The audio-visual animations had much more impact than textual materials and were particularly effective when new concepts were being introduced. The study also showed that students can rely on the materials too much. The results are summarised in this powerpoint presentation and this animation (with sound).

Impact on the Second Year Fluid Mechanics course

I have used audio-visual animations in the second year Fluid Mechanics course to introduce new concepts and to do worked examples.

A new concept can often be described in a number of different ways but there may only be time to cover one of these in a lecture. The on-line animations can describe a concept in a different way and give a little more background than is possible in a lecture (e.g. a reminder of material from previous years). The aim is not to introduce new material. The aim is to help students who did not understand the first time.

Worked examples are always very popular with students. However, they can take up considerable lecture time and have less value if they are rushed because students lag some way behind the lecturer as they copy down the working. When they are provided on-line, students can go through them at their own pace, pausing and re-winding when necessary. The written argument can be supplemented by spoken asides, animations, diagrams and even video.

However, it is important that students do not get too much help with the questions that they are preparing for their supervision. The worked examples that I have created cover similar topics to these questions but are never exactly the same.

So what?

CMI provided the funds for a Tablet PC and the Camtasia editing tool, which can be borrowed by anybody in the department. I hope that other lecturers and supervisors will want to create animations for their courses and I would be very pleased to help. The hardest part of the process is devising the content. Using the Tablet PC it is easier to create an audio-visual animation than it is to create a conventional textual document.

Matthew Juniper, April 2007


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