Education & Curriculum Development


Title: Online university education is the new normal: but is face-to-face better?

Authors: Stevens, G.J., Bienz, T., Wali, N., Condie, J., and Schismenos, S.

Publisher: Emerald 

DOI: 10.1108/ITSE-08-2020-0181


Following the rapid shift to online learning due to COVID-19, this paper aims to compare the relative efficacy of face-to-face and online university teaching methods.

A scoping review was conducted to examine the learning outcomes within and between online and face-to-face (F2F) university teaching programmes.

Although previous research has supported a “no significant difference” position, the review of 91 comparative studies during 2000–2020 identified 37 (41%) which found online teaching was associated with better learning outcomes, 17 (18%) which favoured F2F and 37 (41%) reporting no significant difference. Purpose-developed online content which supports “student-led” enquiry and cognitive challenge were cited as factors supporting better learning outcomes.

Research limitations/implications
This study adopts a pre-defined methodology in reviewing literature which ensures rigour in identifying relevant studies. The large sample of studies (n = 91) supported the comparison of discrete learning modes although high variability in key concepts and outcome variables made it difficult to directly compare some studies. A lack of methodological rigour was observed in some studies.

As a result of COVID-19, online university teaching has become the “new normal” but also re-focussed questions regarding its efficacy. The weight of evidence from this review is that online learning is at least as effective and often better than, F2F modalities in supporting learning outcomes, albeit these differences are often modest. The findings raise questions about the presumed benefits of F2F learning and complicate the case for a return to physical classrooms during the pandemic and beyond.

Title: Humanitarian Engineering Curriculum
Development: A cross-School collaboration at Western Sydney University

Authors: Schismenos, S., Stevens, G.J., Sheppard, L., Berry, L., Rodas, A., and Shrestha, S.

Conference: 33rd Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference.



Humanitarian engineering is a compelling field of study for university students which provides interdisciplinary education and training to address community challenges. Students in such programs typically learn about the value of socio-cultural knowledge in engineering thinking. However,
engineering students do not always understand the importance of human-centered approaches and stakeholder engagement in socio-technical projects. Similarly, social sciences and humanitarian students focus largely on the non-technical aspects of a program mainly due to their lack of technical knowledge. Inter-disciplinary skills are highly valued and humanitarian engineering
projects provide an opportunity to develop these thus benefiting students’ career pathways.

This paper presents a new inter-disciplinary initiative in humanitarian engineering education by
Western Sydney University. The university has developed a new minor and subject in humanitarian
engineering contexts with the support of academics and staff from both the School of Engineering,
Design and Built Environment (EDBE), and the School of Social Sciences (SoSS). This program
provides socio-technical skill development for a range of discipline groups across these Schools.

In this paper, the new minor and subject are outlined. The minor entitled ENG0327 Humanitarian
Action in Practice includes five subjects: two First-Year subjects from EDBE; two Second-Year
subjects from SoSS; and a new Third-Year subject entitled HUMN3120 Humanitarian Design and
Practice currently being co-developed by EDBE and SoSS.

An expected outcome of student learning in the new minor and subject is the development of interdisciplinary skills for humanitarian engineering. Furthermore, students will practice these in real-life
conditions in Australia and overseas via mobility programs.

Cross-School education is critical for university students. By developing this new minor and subject
curricular in the emerging field of Humanitarian Engineering, Western Sydney University highlights
its strategic plan for inter-disciplinary education and training.