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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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We have had to request funds to develop a longer-term solution. A learning resource centre, where students can work together on problem-based learning, assignments and project work is presently being built. This centre will have adequate numbers of online PCs, catalogues, journals, old projects and textbooks, as well as meeting areas with tables and whiteboards. We will also provide semi-formal tutorial support. We have reduced lecture time on the programme to 13 hours per week. We provide 13 hours of access to laboratories where students get an opportunity to carry out assignments in a collaborative environment. In this way they are given adequate time and support on the task: students have time to reflect on their learning. Assignments are carefully scheduled so as not to overload the students at any point in the year. Provisional marks and feedback is provided to students within two weeks. We do have high expectations of our students, and we make them aware of these expectations. We have found that this is successful with most students. We have also become aware of and respect the diversity of learning which is apparent on the programme.

How is the new programme going? Applications for the programme are increasing each year. In 2001, first preferences were 38. In 2002 they rose to 70, and in 2003 they rose to 175.
We have one of the lowest attrition rates of any programme in engineering in DIT. Teachers are slowly coming to terms with a new learning/teaching paradigm. Initially teachers were using laboratory classes to deliver pre-planned experiments. Now they are gradually coming around to allowing students to dictate what will go on. They still find it strange to sometimes having to sit back and let the students get on with it. Some first-year students are still tending to bunk off during scheduled laboratory times and are failing to submit assignments. We have addressed this issue by having a pep talk with these students in early December each year.

Conclusion

Silcock and Brundrett (2000) offer three models of curriculum design:

• Teacher/subject centred
• Student centred
• Partnership approach

Hanson (1996) argues that any theory of adult learning, which advocates the importance of student-centred learning but avoids issues of curriculum control and power, does little to address the actual learning situation. There are sound practical and theoretical reasons why teachers might wish to take charge of learner behaviour. For example, a closely prescribed curriculum can only be realised through a tightly controlled pedagogy.

In this situation, Hanson suggests adults may well suspend some of their rights at the door of the institution in order to learn. They temporarily accept an unequal relationship between teacher and student, and accept the authority of the teacher provided the teacher has something to offer to justify his/her authority. programme designers must decide how to implement learning strategies into their programmes. They must be conscious in the design of their programme whether they are being student-centred or teacher/subject centred, and what learning/teaching strategies are being encouraged. Ideally the learning strategy should be made explicit in the programme document.

There is no panacea for teaching. All students are different and there are very many learning styles. programmes must be designed to offer as many parallel methods of learning to the student as is possible within the academic parameters set out by the faculty. In order to respond adequately to changes in the external environment, programme designers must design programmes that take into account all of the major changes which have occurred in the external environment in recent years. All of the stakeholders must be considered. programmes must first be attractive to students and not place obstacles to entry. In order to do this, it is my view that our programmes must be designed in such a way as to retain students by being ‘student centred’ and they must be orientated towards the needs of a modern economy in the twenty-first century. Last, but not least, the views and needs of teaching staff must be considered.

For prolonged change to occur in any work environment, staff must take ownership of the change. Responsiveness to the external environment and an adoption of change is best implemented in a learning organisation. Constructivist programmes are problematic to develop, expensive to run and difficult to assess. Teachers have less control and students need to be well motivated. Teachers must have a wider range of knowledge and skills from which to draw. Nonetheless, a gradually evolving constructivist programme has been shown in this assignment to be popular with students, a challenge to teaching staff and to arouse the interest of industry.

 


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