The implications of the curriculum process on
the design of a modern engineering programme in the Dublin Institute
Chickering and Gamson
(1987) brought together experts in the field of third-level
education. They formulated seven principles of good practice for
1. Contact between students and faculty: staff interest in students
helps them get through difficult times.
2. Cooperation among students.
3. Active learning (deep learning).
4. Prompt feedback: students must find out early if their learning
is correctly applied and be given an opportunity to correct mistakes
5. Time on task: students need time to reflect on their learning.
6. High expectation: expecting students to do well can be a self-fulfilling
7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning: encourage diversity.
I was appointed project leader for the development of a programme
document in preparation for a validation event, which took place
in March 2002. The programme was to be upgraded from a two-year
certificate in Electrical Services Engineering (ESE) to a three-year
diploma/ordinary degree. As project leader it was my role to coordinate
the work of a programme team in the preparation of the document.
In particular, I wanted to get subject matter experts to write their
syllabi in a way which was student centred. I also wanted to incorporate
the seven principles above into our programme. We had to take cognisance
of the views of all stakeholders. We had to be prepared for opposition
from within an engineering faculty where traditional forms of teaching
were the norm. Teacher unions are very strong in DIT and change
cannot be forced upon an unwilling community. Lumby
(2000) warns that managing teaching and learning is a political
as well as a technical process, and any innovation will only be
accepted in proportion to the degree of support that exists or has
The programme was designed in such a way as to gradually introduce
a constructivist learning paradigm. We had found previously that
first-year students found constructivist learning to be quite a
shock initially. They had tended to bunk off when they were supposed
to be doing research for their assignments and problem-based learning.
After much discussion between teaching staff and students, it was
decided to design much of the first-year programme around traditional
teaching methods. First-year students have enough that is new to
contend with on entering third level: meeting new people, finding
accommodation, working part-time etc. We wanted to provide them
with a broad base of information delivered in the most efficient
We did however include a number of assignments, which made up a
total of 60% of the overall assessment. In this way constructivist
learning was introduced. We broke the tradition in the engineering
faculty of students having to pass both examinations and continual
assessments. We were happy to see the students achieve the programme
objectives in whatever way was most suited to their learning style.
As long as they achieved a pass in each subject it did not matter
how this was achieved. There was no minimum mark in either the examination
or the continual assessment. In this way we were respecting diverse
talents and learning styles. We also provided tutorial support to
students and introduced a peer-mentoring scheme (the peer mentoring
scheme has been modified and extended to other programmes by Leslie
shoemaker. It is an important factor in the success of this programme).
Allocating a lecturer to each class group provided some tutorial
support. The lecturer chosen in each case was somebody who it was
felt would be perceived by the students as a friendly face. This
lecturer was allocated hours in a computer laboratory to support
the students in their assignment work.
We also made a particular point of monitoring students' progress,
particularly that of first years, and speaking to any student falling
behind in a supportive way. Contact between students and faculty
was assured. The 40% examination/60% programme work continued in
second year but a major project was introduced. The project allowed
students to construct their learning. Application and synthesis
instead of memory and understanding evolved. This helped us develop
a collaborative learning environment that encouraged deep learning.
Monitoring of students progess, particularly 1st years, is a particular
feature on our programme. The Head of department Kevin O' Connell
takes a particular interest in this as he sees this as a key feature
in improving attrition rates. On successful completion of the second
year of the programme, the students were awarded a certificate in
electrical-services engineering. To continue to the third year and
thereby acquire a diploma, the students were warned that the academic
level would be raised. This was necessary to satisfy the validation
panel. The diploma was stated in the programme document as being
equivalent to an ordinary degree in order to ensure it would comply
with the Bologna agreement for harmonisation of engineering qualifications.
On the third year of the programme overall assessment is 50% examination
and 50% programme work. Most of the subjects are learned through
constructivist methods in a collaborative environment. The major
project work in second year has developed autonomous and collaborative
learning skills in the students, which now make this workable.
We have had problems providing adequate access to computer laboratories.
I regularly have situations where third-year students request access
to spare terminals in a computer laboratory whilst other classes
are going on in the laboratory. Some lecturers object to this, and
if they feel it interferes with their scheduled class then this
is a legitimate objection. There are also problems allowing students
unsupervised access to computer laboratories at lunchtimes and at
night. This is a measure of the success of the programme inspiring
student-centred learning, as well as being a problem. We are trying
to get across a student-centred ethos to all staff, not just to
teaching staff. We point out that because of a shortage of facilities
it behoves us to provide whatever support we can in the short term.
It also provides great example to first-year and second-year students
in a laboratory to see third-year students hungry for every spare
moment on an online PC.