The implications of the curriculum process on
the design of a modern engineering programme in the Dublin Institute
Modern educational research focuses on the learner: learning and
teaching has replaced teaching and learning, in modern third-level
education. Most lecturers begin teaching in the same way they were
taught. Garratt (1994)
believes engineers have a high need for certainty and an impulsion
towards action rather than thought – action-fixated behaviour
rather than learning. In the engineering faculty at DIT, lecturing
posts are filled on the basis of industrial experience and research
in the field of engineering. New lecturers have little or no experience
teaching. Until recently, these lecturers were encouraged to pursue
research in engineering as opposed to research into the career they
had now chosen, teaching.
Working in Sweden, Marton
and Saljo (1976) first categorised student approaches to learning
as deep and surface. Research in the UK and Australia uncovered
remarkably similar findings. On one hand, surface learners are strategic
and tend to memorise information. They focus on the requirements
of tests and examinations. They cram before exam and seldom interrelate
material to other topics and their experience. They concentrate
on getting satisfactory or high marks in assessments. Any learning,
which occurs, is a by-product. Deep learning, on the other hand,
is where students seek understanding and meaning to what they are
studying. They relate new material to previous knowledge and interact
with the material by using it in other areas of their study, such
as assignment and project work. Examinations and assessment are
not the primary motivation for these students: learning is the priority.
According to Boud et al.
(1996), association and integration are higher-order learning
skills. Association is the connection of new learning with existing
knowledge and attitudes. Integration seeks to find the nature of
relationships; it draws conclusion and seeks insights. These are
the essential features of deep learning.
Surface learning has evolved over the years on engineering programmes
in DIT. Teachers and programme designers kept expanding syllabi
to include new information, which it was essential for engineers
to know. Little or nothing was taken out of syllabi with the
result that students were exposed to ever-expanding syllabi without
being given time to think reflectively or critically. The premise
was that the student is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with
knowledge by the expert teacher.
argues that effective learning hinges on active engagement by the
student. The construction of knowledge around their own knowledge
leads to a much deeper understanding. The result of this is the
use of higher order cognitive skills, as defined by Bloom and collaborates
in the 1950s. According to Dick
(1992), the classroom of the future will support the constructivist
belief that learning must be BIG (Beyond the information given)
if not WIG (without the information given). BIG/WIG puts emphasis
on the learner, but the assessment method must be appropriate.
The constructivist teacher facilitates the students and provides
the tools for the students
to work out a solution. This gives them an opportunity to develop
their critical thinking. The student learns how to learn. This is
an important asset, in an age where the shelf life of what is learned
on an engineering programme is becoming progressively shorter.
It is no longer necessary to expand syllabi with new information
the student must know. We can relax in the confidence that graduates
will have the meta-skills necessary to find out later anything they
need to know. Students also improve their communication skills and
ability to work in a team. Confidence and self-esteem are thereby
nurtured in the student in a way which is not possible with traditional
methods of teaching. Constructivist learning programmes should also
encourage peer support and a collaborative learning environment.
Curricula that encourage student cooperation and discourage student
competition are likely to create a much better learning environment.