New subjects, new ways of working… Entering higher education is far from being a long, quiet river, even for good students. As a post-baccalaureate engineering school, the University of Technology of Compiègne mainly recruits students with a bachelor’s degree with first-class honours. However, some of them still experience hardship at the beginning of the year.
« Several factors come into play », says Etienne Arnoult, the director of training: « For most students, this is their first time living away from their parents, and this newfound autonomy can be hard to manage. Moreover, teaching methods are very different in higher education: the essential thing here is not to arrive at specific results, but to develop thought processes to solve problems. High school students aren’t used to this.
Finally, not all of them have delved as deeply into certain concepts. » All of this is reflected in the results of the first tests, when engineering students have the unpleasant surprise of seeing their grades plummet…
Starting from student demand
To help students quickly strengthen their foundations or acquire the knowledge they need, the UTC has, in recent years, set up a system called the « customised auditorium ». The idea is to ask students to write an email listing the subjects they find difficult and with which they would like help.
« When there are enough requests regarding a specific subject, we create a specific course that meets the students’ expectations », explains Etienne Arnoult. This is neither a private course nor a remedial class organised by a teacher who « summons » any student. The director of training at the UTC says: « the programme is made up of a handful of students ».
Another particular feature of this set-up is that the emphasis is on practical applications, experience, and demonstration, rather than standardisation. On the other hand, the UTC involves a teacher from a related discipline, so as to have a different approach. Thus, instead of a classical course on differential equations given by a mathematician, a chemist will talk about the speed of reactions, while relying on this type of equation.
« Linking theoretical concepts to concrete examples can make it easier to understand those concepts », says Arnoult. « What’s more, hearing someone else explain a concept in his or her own way can cause the penny to drop. »
Approximately four « tailor-made lecture halls » are organised each year at the beginning of each semester. Between 30 and 80 students, usually first-year students, attend them, which represents 10 to 20% of the class. This is because the system works with volunteers: students are neither obliged to send their requests to the email address, nor to attend the course - any more than they are obliged to attend the other lectures. The UTC, which operates on an « à la carte » basis, has but one requirement, which is to take part in the evaluations.
The tailor-made auditoria are not graded: « We would have scared away not only the students, but also the teachers, who would have been left with additional work », smiles the director of training. « On a more serious note, what matters here is that the students tell themselves they are going to improve. »
This way, the programme empowers students while helping them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. For lack of quantitative results, Etienne Arnoult cites the positive feedback in the students’ evaluations of the courses and says he is « convinced that the tailor-made lecture halls help them take control of their learning ».