Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) lecturer Cian Farrell has been awarded the Institution of Structural Engineers Excellence in Structural Engineering Education Award 2022 for his innovative teaching strategies adopted during the recent remote learning period.

With universities forced to host lectures online, Farrell devised an innovative hybrid educational tool in which he visited an industry setting to deliver an interactive online lecture for students.

Not interacting with him or their peers during lectures

Learning moved swiftly online when Covid-19 forced universities to close their doors in March 2020. However, as remote learning continued into 2021, Farrell, a lecturer in structural engineering at TU Dublin, noticed that some students were not interacting with him or their peers during lectures.

In response, he developed an innovative hybrid educational tool, virtual industry visits, where students followed him online as he met with industry professionals working in various structural engineering areas, such as modular design, cement design and manufacturing and timber manufacturing and harvesting.

'Thrill of Engineering' introduced

Farrell said that the visits were developed to help break the student's accumulated barrier of both fear and comfort for not interacting in class: "To enact this change, the transition had to be done with pace and power – thus, the 'Thrill of Engineering' was introduced.

"Whether it be loud roaring machines, high towers swaying in the wind, explosions from the mining of quarries or the tensioning of prestressed concrete beds, the excitement and thrill that the virtual industry visits brought to student groups gained the full and utmost attention from all students."

Following the introduction of this pioneering hybrid, Farrell has recorded increases in student performance ranging from 13.8% to 18% for one student group, while student engagement also rose with almost 100% participating in open Q&A sessions with industry professionals.

And although students returned to the classroom during the 2021/2022 academic year, many virtual industry visits have been held for student groups across a wide range of modules in the field of engineering education.

He said: "For engineering topics that consist of content ranging from theoretical derivations to practical applications, the educational approach has proven extremely useful.

"Of course, practical demonstrations and laboratory experiments have always been key in teaching such content to enable students to interpret the concept better.

"However, through the virtual industry visits as part of a hybrid teaching solution, that bridge between classroom textbooks and industry intelligence has enabled students to visualise and interpret how the concept applies in industry reality."

Read more about Civil & Structural Engineering courses at TU Dublin.