Workshed – A model Online Educational Resource for Students

After a recent conversation with Oliver, he invited me to become an author of this blog and share the views and intentions of my current dissertation topic, “How online educational resources can benefit the qualitative understanding of structural behaviour.” 

Upon substantial research into the online market of ‘openly accessible educational resources’ for the benefit of improving understanding of structural behaviour, I found that the choice was limited in both quantity and quality. The resources that I encountered were either under-maintained and consequently out-dated or simply not ‘attractive’ or exciting enough to captivate the interest of today’s hi-tech student population. This caused Expedition’s workshed to stand out prominently from the crowd of others, with its interactive, well-maintained nature and careful attention to detail and delivery.

In a meeting with Graham Owens (89th president of IStructE) in November 2011, a point was raised that companies, organisations and institutions are providing capital to projects of this nature, but not providing further investment in order to maintain these resources. This provides reason to why many of the resources available are below standard and why most of the advanced resources require some sort of payment. Owens is currently working on a project on behalf of IStructE, to produce a moderated forum for academic across the UK, which if successful could possibly be rolled out and made available to students.

However, with the current interface that workshed provides I personally believe that most of the detail and structure toward improving understanding of structural behaviour via the portal of an online resource is covered and it is more the awareness of the site that needs to be increased.

In Oliver’s previous post, he states that workshed received 80 unique hits from a single town in Ontario, Canada. Although there could be a few reasons behind this, I believe the most likely is that a single institution set a project that required the use of (or at least viewing of) workshed. If you were to amplify this occurrence around the UK or even the world by assessing current projects and how workshed could be used in aid of them, this would surely improve and generate the heightened awareness that the site deserves. (Oliver, is there a way of analysing these results further to see how many of these visitors from Ontario continue to visit the site on separate occasions over the next few weeks?)

My current dissertation topic investigates how an online educational resource such as workshed can assist and benefit the current curriculum by providing an additional aspect of learning rather than focussing on changing the actual syllabus that is currently studied.

During my research into left brain vs right brain analysis, I came across a method of teaching musical understanding to young children, developed in the mid 20th century known as the Suzuki method.  

The Suzuki method focuses on:

  • Learning by ear
  • Learning by reading
  • Learning by rote (repetition)

I see this as a feasible and effective delivery method that can be adapted in the form of a local/institutionalised resource using the interface and software that workshed provides.

Suzuki’s aim was not just to teach students to become competent musicians but he believed an understanding of music made them better people (e.g. more polite, pleasant, with a more positive outlook upon life).

Structural analysis has been categorised as a creative, holistic, right brain activity (David Brohn, 1996) and so I plan to develop a link between the qualitative understanding of structures and the understanding of music, via a similar method to Suzuki’s, with the aim in mind to produce more positive passionate Graduate Engineers for the future.

The hardest part of both this dissertation and raising awareness of a website like workshed is that, via the explosion of social media over the last few years, students and the younger generation have become dependent on news of products and services coming to them, rather than going out of their way to read about any new developments in newspapers for example. Instead, news of new products and services is often spread by word of mouth, or cyber-mouth, using the platform of social media, namely Facebook, twitter and Youtube. Therefore, by attracting the attention of the student population via local advertising in single institutions and social media could provide the boost of online presence and initiation of “word of mouth” that workshed needs. 

A statistic that I encountered on a placement last summer was that “74% of people trust peer recommendations but only 14% trust advertisements”. This leads back to the power of social media advertising on a global and local scale.

Any thoughts or feedback on any of the topics mentioned, whether they are specifically to do with my dissertation or not would be greatly appreciated.