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The implications of the curriculum process on the design of a modern engineering programme in the Dublin Institute of Technology

Author - Kevin Kelly


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In the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) the curriculum usually starts with a programme document. The programme document will be a snapshot of faculty thinking at a point in time, usually at the validation stage of the programme. The programme document lays down clearly the aims, objectives, facilities, staff, syllabi, learning/teaching methods, assessment procedures, programme-management arrangements and all of the other characteristics of the programme. It provides a basis for critical scrutiny by all involved. Compilation of the document is an iterative process, and the final document is scrutinised by an expert panel as part of the validation process.

A dynamic faculty will not consider the programme document to be written in stone; rather, they will regard it more as a template to which changes are constantly made. Students' learning must not be restricted within the parameters set by a programme document. To do so would be to limit their learning to the confines of the imagination of the programme designer.

Boud et al. (1996) suggest programme designers should not presume that the experience they hope to elicit, would actually take place. The nature of the experience will be determined largely by what the learner brings to the situation. In other words, what emerges from a learning activity will have more to do with the learner than the designer or provider.

Stenhouse (1975) argues that objectives that are easily assessed sometimes take on a greater importance in student assessment, simply because they are easily assessed and defended. The key to good programme design may well be finding a way to assess student learning and give them credit (in marks) for what they learn, including that which is outside the syllabus. With student-centred learning this can be significant and varied.

Changing students

The tiger economy has raised most peoples’ expectations in life. Knowles (1998) believes that as people mature, their self-concept moves from being a dependent personality towards one of self-directing human beings. Many students at third level now feel a responsibility to make themselves as financially independent as possible: whole-time students expect their third-level education to fit around their lives – and particularly their part-time jobs – in a flexible manner.

Up to the early 1990s, students entering third level had high Leaving Certificate points. The probability is that these outstanding students would have succeeded under any learning/teaching method we used, such was their motivation and ability. We now have to educate students with a lower number of entry points. To do this successfully we must evaluate the learning/teaching methods we are using and develop alternative strategies for a variety of learning styles. Many of the students entering third level with moderate points are very bright and motivated, but may not have responded well to the teaching style used in second level. We must strive to provide students with an opportunity to find the learning style which best suits them. The role of teaching is changing to one of facilitating learning. The students needs are at the centre of the process.