The Department of Wind Energy at the Technical University of Denmark has created software to help determine where to place wind farms. This software has become the industry standard and is used in over 100 countries worldwide. The university recently converted their traditional training course into an online course in itslearning. Teachers have since noticed that, “students have a lot more time per module and seem to gain a deeper understanding of the topics.”
Wind power is currently the fastest-growing source of electricity production in the world. It’s a clean source of renewable energy, and since wind is free, operational costs are low once a wind turbine is erected. In 2013, the power generated by wind energy cut the production of nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of removing 16.9 million cars from the roads.
The Technical University of Denmark (DTU) is one of the foremost technical universities in Europe. Its Department of Wind Energy created the Wind Atlas Analysis and Application Program (WAsP) in order to simulate wind flow over terrain and estimate the long-term energy production of wind turbines and wind farms. The software is in great demand and the WAsP team has been busy holding three-day training courses at the university. From Chile to China, from Sri Lanka to Switzerland; professionals from the wind energy industry are requesting WAsP training.
WAsP team researchers decided to develop an online version of the course in order to remove the obstacles of travel, visa applications, etc. for their participants; and to reduce the carbon footprint. This global e-learning class mixes participants with different scientific and cultural backgrounds; allowing for engaging interaction between students. An added benefit of offering the class online is that it allows students to study at their own pace, providing them with more time to reflect on the complex material.
Designing the course
Traditional courses are often designed by one teacher. The WAsP e-learning course was designed by a team of more than ten, whose brainstorming sessions produced many creative ideas. Creativity is an important element of online education because it adds a bit of “personality” where face-to-face contact is lacking.
The WAsP team was one of the first to develop an e-learning course at DTU. They discovered that traditional course material had to be completely reorganized for online teaching. They decided that they’d need a learning platform that could support their pedagogical methods, so they contacted e-learning consultant Anita Monty. Anita had had success creating online courses at the University of Copenhagen using the itslearning platform. She introduced it to the WAsP team and they liked what they saw.
Merete Badger, DTU senior scientist
Merete Badger, WAsP e-learning project manager and DTU senior scientist recalls, “We found the system quite intuitive and easy to use. itslearning offers a range of functionalities which are tailored to online teaching and learning such as discussion fora; tools for planning, tests and surveys; tools for monitoring student progress and for organizing learning material.”
Merete and her team worked closely with Anita to make use of the pedagogical advantages of the learning platform. “The teaching method builds upon a model for online teaching developed by Professor Gilly Salmon, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education Innovation at the University of Western Australia,” Anita explains. Salmon’s technique entails gradually building up an interactive learning community where participants post messages frequently and respond to the posts of other participants in group discussions. “This method gets students highly involved and very active in online courses. Participating actively in group work and discussions throughout the course makes the class more of a community, like in a regular classroom,” continues Anita.
There are strict requirements for participation in order to pass the course, such as:
- You have to post a minimum of one comment per module
- You have to reply to questions or comments made by teachers and fellow course participants
- You have to contribute to group discussions in a meaningful way, and make comments relevant to the topics
- Teachers reported that these requirements worked very well. Almost all participants were active in the discussion fora and met the posting criteria.
The WAsP e-learning course consists of recorded presentations, hands-on exercises, self-assessment tests, group discussions and a complete case study including peer-to-peer assessment. Classes begin with discussions in itslearning forums. Later, students share the results of their research and experiments with the WAsP software by pasting screenshots into discussion threads.
The course is made up of modules which run from Friday to Friday. To facilitate discussions and the exchange of feedback, all participants and teachers work on the same course module during the same week. The workload can be distributed over the week in any way participants like, but deadlines for each module must be fulfilled in order to pass.
The students who pass the course get a diploma. They can then take a self-test in itslearning to determine if they have gained enough knowledge to take a WAsP certification exam (or just to see how much they have learned from the course). WAsP certification is an excellent qualification to have if you wish to apply for a job in the wind energy industry. As you can see in the map below, there are certified WAsP users spanning the globe.
Feedback from participants has been extremely positive. Yolanda Loureiro Rodriguez, from CENER in Spain commented, “All the e-moderators and participants have been very active. It was easy to learn!” Adhemar Araoz, of KTH in Sweden added, “I think the structure was really nice and the discussions improved the understanding a lot. I learned a lot during the course.”
Course teachers (or e-moderators) felt that the discussions they had with students during the e-learning courses were different than those they’d had in the traditional WAsP courses. It seemed that online participants reached a deeper level of understanding than those who took the three-day courses; it seemed that they had learned more. Students were able to fit the coursework more easily into their individual schedules; spending as much time as they wanted on exercises, reflection and discussion. The courses in itslearning have been so successful that DTU is currently developing online Master’s courses in Wind Energy.
For more information about the WAsP program, please visit www.wasp.dk
The WAsP e-learning course was created in cooperation with the Virtual Campus Hub project, whose goal was to connect four European technical universities securely to each other using single-sign-on in order to share online applications for teaching. This successful project was partially funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme.