On-line Meetings for Educating the Minds of Future Safety Engineers
during the COVID Pandemic: An Experience Report
Barbara Gallina
School of Innovation, Design and Engineering (IDT), Mälardalen University, Box 883, 72123 Västerås, Sweden
Pedagogical Digital Competence, Community of Inquiry (COI), Objectivism, Constructivism, Social
Constructivism, Constructive Alignment, Safety-critical Systems Engineering.
World-wide opportunities for “meetings of minds” was the goal of the research of visionaries who contributed
to the creation of networked communication systems. During 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,
educational institutes massively exploited these systems enabling virtual spaces of synchronous and asyn-
chronous meetings among students and among students and teachers. Technology alone, however, is not
sufficient. Technological Pedagogical And Content Knowledge (TPACK) and competence are paramount.
In this paper, I report about my experience in pedagogically designing and implementing an on-line version
of an advanced master course on safety-critical systems engineering, conceived and delivered as a series of
Zoom-based, and Community-Of-Inquiry (COI)-oriented meetings plus Canvas-based threads of discussions
for educating the minds of future safety and software engineers. I also report about the limited but still talkative
COI-specific questionnaire-based evaluation, conducted with the purpose of better understanding the limits of
moving the course on line and elicit areas of improvement, given that likely education on-line is now here to
stay. Finally, I elaborate on a roadmap for future development, based on the results from the first instance.
Networked communication systems were conceived
by visionary researchers whose purpose was to create
world-wide opportunities for “meetings of minds”.
During 2020, as a reaction to the COVID-19 pan-
demic and the consequent urgent imperative to move
online and contribute to social distance, educational
institutes massively exploited these systems enabling
virtual spaces of synchronous and asynchronous dia-
logues among students and among students and teach-
ers. As known, however, technology alone is not
sufficient. Knowledgeable and skilled personnel are
needed. At Mälardalen University, Sweden, differ-
ent initiatives have been introduced to support teach-
ers lacking experience with on-line education to nav-
igate in these challenging times. These initiatives
aim at enabling teachers to achieve skills spanning
from basic digital literacy, achievable via for in-
stance few-hour courses on digital learning platforms
and digital video-conferencing systems to pedagog-
ical digital competence, achievable via formal uni-
versity courses such as PEA929-Pedagogical digital
competence (MDH-Mälardalen University, 2020e).
With the purpose of creating opportunities for “meet-
ings of minds” and acquiring the knowledge and skills
necessary for addressing the challenges posed by on-
line education, I took PEA929 while re-designing
for on-line delivery DVA437 Safety critical systems
engineering (MDH-Mälardalen University, 2020a),
an advanced master course. PEA929 allowed me
to achieve the necessary pedagogical digital compe-
tence, which then combined with my knowledge of
content, as well as understanding of the complex in-
teraction between the different types of knowledge
components allowed me to re-design DVA437 for on-
line delivery. In this paper, I report about my expe-
rience in pedagogically designing and implementing
the on-line version of DVA437, conceived and deliv-
ered as a series of Zoom-based, and Community-Of-
Inquiry (COI)-oriented meetings plus Canvas-based
threads of discussions for educating the minds of fu-
ture safety engineers. I also report about the limited
but still talkative COI-specific questionnaire-based
evaluation, conducted with the purpose of better un-
derstanding the limits of moving the course on line
and elicit areas of improvement, given that likely ed-
ucation on-line is now here to stay and not just a tem-
Gallina, B.
On-line Meetings for Educating the Minds of Future Safety Engineers during the COVID Pandemic: An Experience Report.
DOI: 10.5220/0010509903620369
In Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2021) - Volume 2, pages 362-369
ISBN: 978-989-758-502-9
2021 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
porary patch introduced to contribute to facing the
COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, I elaborate a roadmap
for future development based on the results from the
first instance. The rest of the paper is organised as
follows. In Section 2, I recall essential background
information. In Section 3, I explain the pedagogical
goal. In Section 4, coherently with the pedagogical
goal, I present the COI-oriented redesign and imple-
mentation of DVA437. In Section 5, I present the re-
sults. Finally, in Section 6, I draw my conclusions and
elaborate on a roadmap for future development.
In this section, I recall essential information about
the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge
(TPACK) framework, and current models and learn-
ing perspectives for an effective pedagogically dig-
ital learning experience. I also recall essential in-
formation on the advanced master course on safety-
critical systems engineering, code DVA437, which I
re-designed for on-line delivery.
2.1 TPAC Knowledge and Competence
Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge
(TPACK) is a theoretical framework for understand-
ing teacher knowledge required for effective technol-
ogy integration. TPACK introduces the relationships
between all three basic components of knowledge
(technology, pedagogy, and content) (Mishra and
Koehler, 2006). At the intersection of these three
knowledge types is an intuitive understanding of their
complex interplay. Teachers are expected to teach
content using appropriate pedagogical methods and
technologies. Beside the knowledge, competence,
which “is a performance-related term describing a
preparedness to take action” (M. Søby, 2013), is
also fundamental. Specifically, in the context of
this paper, pedagogical digital competence is the
competence in focus. This competence is defined
as the “teacher’s proficiency in using Information
Communication Technology (ICT) in a professional
context with good pedagogic-didactic judgment and
his or her awareness of its implications for learning
strategies and the digital Bildung of pupils and
students” (Krumsvik, 2011).
2.2 Community of Inquiry Model
The Community Of Inquiry (COI) model (Garrison
et al., 1999) is constituted of three core elements es-
sential to an educational transaction: cognitive pres-
ence, social presence, and teaching presence. The
COI model, illustrated in Figure 1, taken from (Garri-
son et al., 1999), assumes that learning occurs within
the community through the interaction of the three
core elements. Indicators (key words/phrases) for
each of the three elements emerged via the analysis of
computer-conferencing transcripts. These indicators
permit the effectiveness of the implementation of the
COI-model to be assessed. To make the paper self-
contained, the definitions of these types of presence
and the corresponding types of indicators are recalled
in what follows.
Figure 1: Community of Inquiry Model.
The cognitive presence is defined as extent to which
learners are able to construct and confirm meaning
through sustained reflection and discourse. Indicators
related to this type of presence are: sense of puzzle-
ment, information exchange, connecting ideas, apply
new ideas.
The social presence is defined as the ability of par-
ticipants to identify with the community (e.g., course
of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting en-
vironment, and develop inter-personal relationships
by way of projecting their individual personalities. In-
dicators related to this type of presence are: emoti-
cons, risk-free expressions, encouraging collabora-
The teaching presence is defined as facilitation,
and direction of cognitive and social processes for the
purpose of realising personally meaningful and edu-
cationally worthwhile learning outcomes. Indicators
related to this type of presence are: defining and ini-
tiating discussion topics, sharing personal meaning,
focusing discussion. The interested reader may refer
to (Castellanos-Reyes, 2020) for a brief summary re-
garding the 20 years of progress in COI.
2.3 Learning Perspectives
In this subsection, I recall three perspectives on learn-
ing: the objectivistic, the constructivist and social
constructivist. According to the objectivist perspec-
On-line Meetings for Educating the Minds of Future Safety Engineers during the COVID Pandemic: An Experience Report
tive on learning, According to the objectivist perspec-
tive on learning, learners are instructed by teachers.
Teachers are expected to transmit knowledge to the
learners. The main assumption is that knowledge
is objective, a single objective reality exists. This
perspective is recognised to be appropriate for sub-
ject matters based on factual technical or procedural
knowledge. However, it is pointed out that the learn-
ing experience might be impoverished when students
only act as passive recipients of content. According to
the constructivist perspective on learning, “learning
happens when learners construct meaning by inter-
preting information in the context of their own expe-
riences. In other words, learners construct their own
understandings of the world by reflecting on their ex-
periences” (Gogus, 2012). According to the social
constructivist perspective, the construction of knowl-
edge is shaped by the social and cultural context. The
learners come to construct and apply knowledge in
socially mediated contexts.
2.4 DVA437
DVA437-Safety critical systems engineering is a 7.5
ECTS advanced course which is part of various
Master’s programmes (MDH-Mälardalen University,
2020c; MDH-Mälardalen University, 2020d; MDH-
Mälardalen University, 2020b) at Mälardalen Univer-
sity. DVA437 was introduced for the first time in the
fall semester of 2011 as 10-week course at a pace of
50%, i.e., a total student effort of around 20 hours per
week. Until 2019 (before the spreading of the corona
virus), it was delivered on campus via regular interac-
tive theoretical lectures and guest lectures, typically
given by industrial partners. The Intended Learning
Outcomes of the course are:
1. Apply fundamental methods for hazard analysis.
This ILO implicitly requires that students reach a
mastery in dependability terms and concepts.
2. Apply safety standards for development of safety-
critical systems. This ILO implicitly requires that
students reach an understanding of the typical
safety life-cycles and are able to describe specific
portions of them in specific domains.
3. Create a safety case. This ILO implicitly requires
that students reach a mastery in argumentation,
evidence identification and classification.
4. Compare and contrast his/her work with respect to
state of the art concerning safety case structuring.
These ILOs were formulated according to the SOLO
(Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome) tax-
onomy and the course has been designed accord-
ing to constructive alignment principles (Biggs and
Tang, 2007), combined with the education-oriented
ISO 26262 interpretation (Gallina, 2015), where ISO
26262 (ISO/TC 22/SC 32, 2018) is a standard for
functional safety in the automotive domain. The
course is advanced and as such it expects students to
reach in-depth knowledge and skills. The third ILO
“create a safety case” , for instance, explicitly states
the expectation for the so called “extended abstract”
level of understanding. Students are examined via a
written exam as well as project work which includes
an oral presentation, during which students are not
only expected to present orally their work but also act
as opponents/discussants while class-mates present.
The project work always proposes real life challenges
provided in cooperation with industrial partners.
In this section, the pedagogical goal for the on-line
version of DVA437 is set. Specifically, based on the
theories presented in Section 2, intersecting the in-
tersections (Figure 2) is set as the main pedagogical
goal. This translates into first striving for:
a synergetic perspective on learning where all per-
spectives are considered of value and complement
each other. This means that partly the knowl-
edge is transferred from the teacher to the learn-
ers (especially factual knowledge such as the ter-
minological framework related to dependability),
partly is constructed individually (via individual
project-related assignments) and partly is con-
structed cooperatively (via group-based assign-
ments) via a social discourse;
an educational experience where all types of pres-
ence are present;
and then striving for intersecting the intersections by
offering an educational experience where all types of
presence are present and a synergetic perspective on
learning is in place.
Figure 2: Perspective and presence intersection.
CSEDU 2021 - 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
In this section, I describe how globally the DVA437
course (Section 4.1) and how each single lecture (Sec-
tion 4.2) was redesigned and then implemented to
comply with the COI model. It shall be noted that
partly the redesign was inspired by (Fiock, 2020).
4.1 Course Redesign & Implementation
As mentioned in Section 2, DVA437 was designed
with constructive alignment principles in mind. That
design was preserved and made explicit for students
by drawing the corresponding mindmap, which not
only shows the alignment but also emphasises the
teacher and the student role with respect to the teach-
ing & cognitive presence. The mindmap, which was
included in the DVA437 study-guide, is given in the
Appendix. Regarding social presence, to motivate
students and create a community-feeling, I have pro-
vided examples of job-advertisement regarding posi-
tions for safety engineers where it was clearly stated
that the required skills were the same as the ones for-
mulated by the first 3 ILOs. In addition, I have sent
a welcome message. I have prepared a rather de-
tailed study-guide, where I included a Zoom-related
“etiquette”, which among other aspects was recom-
mending students to add their photo, turn on their em-
bedded camera, use the chat to interact constructively
with the teacher and the other students.
4.2 Lecture Redesign &
At lecture-level, each lecture was redesigned to ex-
plicitly structure the different types of presence and
learning perspectives. The initial and final part of the
lectures are explicitly dedicated to the social construc-
tivist perspective and cognitive presence. The core
of the lecture is explicitly dedicated to the objectivis-
tic perspective and teaching presence. During which
however students are stimulated with questions and
1-3-minute exercises to allow them to act not only as
content recipients but also content processors. Fig-
ure 3 provides an example of a typical outline of
DVA437 lectures.
Each Zoom-based lecture was started in good time
(30 minutes earlier) to allow students to gather and
eventually interact as well as formulate their doubts.
Thus, each lecture was explicitly preceded by part
dedicated to the social presence. At the end of each
lecture students were challenged with exercises and
in various cases explicit discussion threads on Canvas
Figure 3: Typical outline of DVA437 lectures.
were opened to allow them to individually construct
In this section, I report about the quantitative results
based on the first experience.
From a COI perspective, the teaching and cog-
nitive presence were present during the verbal inter-
action. A subset of students was definitively active
asking questions during the theoretical as well as the
practical lectures and guest lectures, participating to
the role-play constructively. The social presence in-
stead did not have specific contexts to be able to de-
velop itself. Concerning the assessment of the COI
model from a chat-perspective, I counted the typi-
cal COI indicators by inspecting manually the chats,
which were automatically saved by Zoom. Regard-
ing indicators of social presence, only one emoticon
from my side was included in the chat, no significant
risk-free expressions, and regarding encouraging col-
laboration some indicators were present but mainly
included in my own messages sent to either individ-
ual students or to all attendees. Regarding cognitive
presence, I noticed that the number of indicators grad-
ually increased throughout the course-period. This
clearly highlights that it takes time to set the climate
for meaningful cognitive presence.
In addition to the analysis of the chats, given the
novelty of the course-delivery and the desire of as-
sessing at least partly the achievement of the pedagog-
ical goal, which was clearly set, as well as better un-
derstanding the advantages and limits of moving the
course on line, I have sent to students a COI-focused
questionnaire (Arbaugh et al., 2008), currently, down-
loadable from the COI-site (COI-Community of In-
quiry, 2020). As reviewed by (Stenbom, 2018),
this questionnaire has been used effectively to ex-
amine learning experiences and to compare different
premises in many contexts. Thus, I sent it to 16 reg-
On-line Meetings for Educating the Minds of Future Safety Engineers during the COVID Pandemic: An Experience Report
ular students who: 1) took the course this year, 2)
attended the lectures, and 3) were active during the
project work. Figure 4-6 show the histograms related
to the three types of presence.
In addition to these histograms, even if not shown
in this paper, sub-scale scores were computed for each
respondent for each of the three scales as a mean value
of the numerically coded responses. For sake of clar-
ity, it shall be stated that the questionnaire was not
proposed as an anonymous questionnaire. The rea-
son for this choice is twofold: 1) “students should
be treated as adult partners and that an objective
and open exchange regarding the performance quality
must be possible”; 2) studies such as (Scherer et al.,
2013) point out that “no significant differences are
identified in the informative quality of data between
the anonymous and personalised student evaluations”.
From a quantitative and throughput-focused per-
spective, the throughput after the first examination
in relation to the written exam, if compared with
the previous instance, decreased negligibly (this year,
72,22% passed the written exam, while 73% passed
the written exam last year). In relation to the project
work, instead, the throughput increased (this year,
89% passed the project after the first examination,
while only 82,75% passed the previous year). From
these numeric results, it emerges that the throughput
did not suffer by having moved the teaching on-line.
As mentioned, my threefold purpose with this
questionnaire/results-analysis was to: assess the im-
plementation of the Community of Inquiry Model,
better understand the limits of moving the course on
line, and elicit areas of improvement given that likely
education on-line is now here to stay.
Based on the answers received (8 students pro-
vided their answers, i.e., 50%), the main lacking as-
pect resulted to be the social presence. From a teach-
ing and cognitive presence, the respondents were
globally satisfied. Concerning timely feedback, this
year, it was an exceptional situation due to the short
notice sick-leave of the course assistant. Given this
limited but stil talkative results, it emerges the need
of substantially enhancing the social presence. How-
ever, room for general improvement is present.
In this paper, I reported about my experience in
pedagogically redesigning and implementing an on-
line version of an advanced master course on safety-
critical systems engineering, conceived and deliv-
ered as a series of Zoom-based, and community-of-
inquiry-oriented meetings plus Canvas-based threads
of discussions for educating the minds of future safety
and software engineers. Based on the results from the
first instance, a roadmap for near-future development
can be sketched as follows. To improve the social
presence, I plan to:
introduce a Zoom-based lecture-zero, during
which we could create a virtual round table and
present ourselves;
use break-out rooms before and after the lectures
to create the virtual corridor facilitating small-
open Canvas-discussion-forum for enabling stu-
dents to professionally present themselves in re-
lation to a set of assumed skills, which are helpful
for project work. This year a discussion forum
was opened but not in a structured manner and as
a consequence it was not exploited as expected.
To improve the cognitive presence as well as increase
contexts for social constructivist learning, I plan to:
use break-out rooms to enable students to work
in small groups and solve the typical 2-3-minute
use polls to assess the individual cognitive pres-
To improve the teaching presence, I plan to:
make explicit for the students the usage of tech-
nology in relation to a specific learning perspec-
tive and type of presence. This should allow me
to extend the COI-specific survey to get feedback
from students with respect to the effectiveness of
the usage of specific Zoom-or-Canvas features.
introduce an exit-questionnaire for each lec-
ture to understand if the questions/challenges
asked/posed within the lecture can be an-
swered/faced by the individual students.
As future development, inspired by (Zhu et al., 2019),
I also plan to explore Computer-Mediated Discourse
Analysis (CMDA) for analysing the participation in
online discussion and students’ learning behaviours in
relation to CoI presences. A more formal evaluation is
expected to be addressed, implemented, and analysed
based on data collected over a longer period, com-
prising multiple DVA437-course instances, possibly
based on a larger sample of questionnaire responses.
I wish to thank the MDH students who took DVA437
(instance 2020-2021) and MDH colleagues for inter-
esting discussions on pedagogical digital competence,
during PEA929 classes.
CSEDU 2021 - 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Figure 4: Social presence.
Figure 5: Cognitive presence.
Figure 6: Teaching presence.
On-line Meetings for Educating the Minds of Future Safety Engineers during the COVID Pandemic: An Experience Report
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CSEDU 2021 - 13th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Figure 7: DVA437 Mindmap showing the alignment of ILOs, teaching/learning/examination tasks.
On-line Meetings for Educating the Minds of Future Safety Engineers during the COVID Pandemic: An Experience Report