Engineering programmes in Thailand: enhancing the quality of student feedback
Student feedback can be a powerful tool in improving the quality of learning and teaching in higher education. For course evaluation, students are generally required to provide feedback about an instructor/facilitator’s performance (student– teacher feedback), in this case on a rating scale questionnaire. Often such feedback only reflects student satisfaction instead of enhancing learning and teaching. A more meaningful form of feedback that may be used to inform effective learning is one-to–one feedback (either student-teacher or teacher-student feedback). Engaging in hands-on practical work and project activities with students can also generate useful feedback for instructors/teachers. Currently, general education courses at many Thai universities aim to equip students with skills related to the provision of effective feedback such as: asking the right questions and non–judgmental criticism. It is strongly believed that, in the near future, social media will play an important role in 360-degree feedback which may, for example, provide further support to the students to foster their learning. Through a case study undertaken at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, this chapter explores how student feedback in engineering programmes in Thailand can enhance the quality of student learning outcomes.
In the 1960s there were eight Thai public universities offering undergraduate engineering programmes. By the 1980s the shortage of engineers was of such concern that new public universities and several private colleges were set up and upgraded to engineering and technology universities. All of these institutions operate under the guidelines of the Office of the Higher Education Commission 1in Thailand, which limits the total number of credit points for all Bachelor degree programmes to 120–150, including a minimum of 30 credit points for general studies and free electives such as: physical sciences, mathematics, English language, social sciences and humanities. Bachelor degree programmes in engineering generally reach the maximum level of 140–50 credit points over eight semesters or four academic years (Wibulswas and Tantarana, 2010). The process is also overseen by the Engineering Profession Control Committee (EPCC), a professional body which issues licenses to practice for civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical and mining engineers.
There are three ways in which a Bachelor’s degree in engineering education can be obtained in Thailand. The first approach puts all the first-year engineering students together to undertake common studies, and then separates them into various disciplines from the second year onwards. The second approach separates students into their respective disciplines as soon as they are admitted to their first year. The third approach takes vocational students, who possess a diploma in vocational education, and places them into appropriate disciplines. Relevant subjects from their prior vocational education may be credited to the programme.
Regarding the quality assurance of higher education in Thailand, until relatively recently, the public universities have not been systematically monitored. This happened because the public universities have been fully funded by the government and they have had a system of selecting high–quality students. Consequently, little had been done to ensure the quality of the teaching and learning. However, in order to effectively implement quality assurance in higher education, the Thai government realised that there was a need for an organisation that would establish the criteria and methods to be used. Thailand’s National Education Act (Ministry of Education, 1999) proposed establishing such a body to regulate quality in higher education:
An Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment shall be established as a public organization, responsible for development of criteria and methods of external evaluation, conducting evaluation of educational achievement in order to assess the quality of institutions, bearing in mind the objectives and principles and guidelines for each level of education as stipulated in this Act.… (Ministry of Education, 1999: 23)
Apart from the need for an external authority, it is an important part of the internal quality assurance of higher education institutions to ensure that the necessary conditions are in place to develop different types of learning outcomes for the students. According to the Ministry of University Affairs (2006), these are as follows:
This chapter explores how student feedback in engineering programmes in Thailand can enhance these learning outcomes and the general development of the students. It examines the types of student feedback in engineering programmes in Thailand that can be generated in classrooms, learning activities, laboratories, workshops and projects.
At present, engineers around the world are required to possess multi–disciplinary knowledge and skills to perform professional work. Employers no longer have the capacity to train their employees on-the–job or through an apprenticeship, to equip them with the required knowledge of mathematics, physical sciences and management techniques. Consequently, more demand is placed on engineering educators to equip students with the required knowledge and skills, as indicated in the following statement by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in Thailand:
… to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering … to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyse and interpret data … to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints … to function on multidisciplinary teams … to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems … to communicate effectively … to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context … to engage in lifelong learning … a knowledge of contemporary issues … to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice. (ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission, 2009: 3)
Collecting student feedback, together with employer and other stakeholder feedback may significantly assist the development of engineering programmes that would help to develop the wide range of skills that are now required of engineering graduates.
It is often argued that the value of student feedback in enhancing the quality of instruction is not clear-cut. Although, in many instances students’ evaluation of the instruction could lead to improvements in the effectiveness of the teaching (Murray, 1997), both the extent to which student ratings are valid (Kulik, 2001) and which strategies should be utilised in student feedback (Penny and Coe, 2004) have been questioned.
Feedback from the student to the teacher can be a powerful tool to improve the quality of teaching in engineering in Thailand, because teaching and learning can be synchronised when the teachers are open to receiving feedback from students that indicates their understanding, misconceptions, errors and engagement. In engineering programmes, feedback from students may take a number of forms including achievement levels in assignments and examinations (such as quizzes and formal mid–and final term papers) as well as forming part of the regular process of course evaluation. For course evaluation, students are generally required to provide feedback about an instructor/teacher’s performance (student– teacher feedback). Typically, such questions require students to consider aspects of the teaching process. These may include punctuality, and the quality of teaching in lecture and laboratory sessions. Often such feedback only reflects student satisfaction instead of improvement. Engaging in hands-on practical work and project activities with students can also generate useful feedback for the instructors/teachers.
According to the goals of the engineering programmes at KMUTT, the superficial feedback produced from ticking boxes on marking sheets is considered ineffective and non-dynamic because it is impersonal and does not allow for student comments or deeper reflection. Despite the enormous contribution of time and effort made by instructors, both the process and value of collecting feedback from engineering students remains problematic.
Currently, general courses at KMUTT, as well as at many other universities in Thailand, aim to equip students with broad skills, such as: asking the right questions and non-judgmental criticism which they may utilise in effective feedback provision. It is strongly believed that in the near future social media will play an important role in 360-degree feedback which may reinforce the importance of their voice to the students.
In order for Thai engineering students, especially at those KMUTT, to acquire knowledge and skills and keep abreast of international trends, it is understood that a variety of different teaching and learning environments including classroom learning, seminars, workshops and laboratory sessions are necessary. Project work may also be helpful in developing this knowledge and skills. Student feedback thus serves as a valuable tool for lecturers to further enhance their teaching and student learning. Provision of student feedback in different settings and types of courses at KMUTT is discussed in detail in the following sections.
This section discusses the observations by the lecturers, and student feedback, on a course titled ‘General Education’ which is intended for first-year undergraduate students including the engineering students, and how such observations and feedback may trigger improvements in teaching practice.
The aim of the general education course is to offer learning skills to first-year undergraduate students in all fields. Each classroom consists of students from different disciplines such as: sciences, engineering and industrial education. This discussion focuses on the international curriculum in which only engineering students were enrolled. The observations by lecturers noted various forms of feedback by students, and these are detailed later in this section.
In this course, all the lecturers wrote down their observations and feedback from their students each time they attended the class. This was invaluable for the present study. Lecturers also asserted that writing a teaching log after each class has given them an opportunity to reflect on their teaching and that the feedback from students gave them a reference point for better teaching in subsequent classes and semesters. Additionally, students provide their overall feedback to the lecturers at the end of the course in the form of an online questionnaire. However, the authors argue that continuous feedback is also valuable. Below is an outline of significant points taken from the teaching logs regarding student in-class feedback and some implications for future classes.
Because this course entailed both lectures and activities, students encountered two styles of learning in the same course: individual for the first hour and group work for the remaining two hours. At the end of each class, students were asked to recall what they had learned through either a learning memo for online submission or a presentation in class. Feedback from the majority of students suggests that students found the presentation to be a more effective way to recall and express their understanding. Later in the course, at the end of each class a few students (different ones each time) were assigned to give a presentation on what they had learnt and this enabled learning and sharing among students who were keen on the subject and raised interesting points.
It is important to note that oral presentation is an essential skill which students need to practice, apart from writing assignments, because it allows them to improve their confidence and to receive comments from their peers. One advantage of presentation is that instructors can check students’ understanding immediately. The course activities dealt with ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets. Students intended to consider the ‘growth’ mindset as a ‘good’ thinking concept, whereas the ‘fixed’ mindset was seen as ‘bad’ (although this might have been a misconception). The main point that students should have gained from this exercise was the recognition of which aspects of their thinking fall into the growth mindset and which fall into the fixed one. The aim was to develop the students’ capacity to switch between the two mindsets, depending on the situation as fixed mindset might be appropriate for some risky situations. In their final evaluation the students expressed appreciation for the clarification given after presentations during the course.
Another type of feedback which is essential for the improvement of teaching quality comes from reflection by the students. Reflection is also a form of feedback which allows students to deal with the activities in class. Given that the topic of plagiarism provided students with an opportunity to think about their past experiences with plagiarism, they could share their opinions and understanding along with the implications of such actions until they could recognise the risks and appreciate the work of other scholars by citing their sources. Hence, reflection by students encouraged lecturers to cover their topic in more depth. For instance, students’ lack of understanding of how to avoid plagiarism encouraged lecturers to teach students how to cite properly.
It may be argued that each type of feedback in the course could be seen as a way of enhancing self-regulated learning in students. According to Zimmerman (1990), self-regulated learning has three features: observing the activities, judging the performance and improving the performance. The course described here offered tasks in which students could build self-regulated learning habits. According to Butler and Winne (1995), feedback is considered to be the most important factor in building up self-regulated learning for learners because feedback is associated with cognitive engagement with tasks. When students are involved in an activity, they tend to have internal and external feedback through their self-monitoring, collaboration with their peers, responses from lecturers and presentation before the end of the class. At the same time, not only the students but also the lecturers adopt self-regulated learning in their classroom. It is often the case that the students are encouraged to be self- regulated, but only a few of them will focus on the feedback and self- regulation by the lecturers (Eekelen et al., 2005).
Genalo et al. (2004) argued that classroom instruction is frequently centred on delivering the content to students instead of facilitating student inquiry during the learning process. Holzer (1994) pointed out that student views can be elicited through open-ended questions and encouraged by non-judgmental feedback. In contrast, narrow single- answer (right/wrong) questions tend to discourage risk taking and creativity in students (Brooks and Brooks, 1993). These are some of the reasons why many engineering programmes at KMUTT have provided students with seminar courses. One of the goals of these courses is to acquaint students with a research approach to solving a problem. One approach used at KMUTT has been that a group of students is guided through a project (which has previously been successfully carried out) and this enables the engineering students to learn research methodology. Students are guided to learn to ask questions based on the research process. The overall goal is to change students’ mind-set to be more proactive.
If possible, the process can also be carried out in person in a workshoplike manner, utilising instant interactive feedback. From the perspective of feedback, the main difference between this learning process and a usual classroom or laboratory is that the feedback can be frequent, instant and informal.
This chapter has argued that although student feedback in Thailand and elsewhere is mainly understood as a satisfaction rating at the end of the course, there are other types of feedback that might be utilised in the classroom, workshop, laboratory or project work. However, the validity of student feedback is often questioned (Kulik, 2001). Thus, it is regarded as a requirement on lecturers and is often not taken seriously. However, as Brooks and Brooks (1993) argue, instructors should seek and value student perspectives as windows to their knowledge and reasoning, subsequently aiding enhancement of the teaching and learning process (Holzer, 1994). Learning is something that students must do and take ownership of, rather than something that is done to them (Savage et al., 2007). Utilising student feedback and making appropriate changes to teaching may more successfully facilitate self- directed learning and thus motivate students more effectively. Thai higher education still has some way to travel, before it reaches this stage. Therefore, this chapter has merely attempted to outline the issues and general situation regarding utilising student feedback in engineering education in Thailand.
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1The Office of the Higher Education Commission has authority in various areas such as: proposing policies for higher education and standards which correspond to the National Economic and Social Development Plan and the National Education Plan; setting criteria and identifying resources to support higher education; and the development of monitoring and evaluation systems for higher education provision on the basis of academic freedom and the excellence of each individual degree-granting institution; considering and issuing regulations, criteria and official orders as deemed necessary.