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Moving a part-time engineering course to a student-centred paradigm

Author - Kevin Kelly


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Introduction

This paper is a further reflection on two conference papers presented at the World Conference for Continuing Engineering Education (WCCEE) in Vienna in April 2006 and National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway Conference: The Challenge of Diversity: Teaching, Support and Student Learning , June 2006. Both conference papers dealt with different aspects of my experiences of the theoretical and pedagogical changes required in re-design and delivery of a part-time engineering programme for the continuing education development of electrical engineers in the workforce.

The course setting

The course under consideration in this paper is the four-year, part-time Bachelor of Technology, Ordinary Degree in Electrical Services Engineering, provided and accredited by the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). It generally has about 150 participants. The DIT also provides and accredits a more traditional, part-time, Honours Degree, Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical Engineering which is approved by the professional body, Engineers Ireland, as fulfilling the academic requirements for Chartered Engineer. This second degree generally has 50 students enrolled.

Participants on the part-time ordinary degree programme are all mature students who generally have prior training as electricians, usually through an apprenticeship route, and who have considerable experience of working in the trade. The part-time Ordinary Degree, therefore, is significantly different to the part-time ab initio honours degree in the following respects:

  • Its participants have generally successfully completed their phases of apprenticeship as electricians
  • Participants have considerable work experience in the trade
  • Participants have work-contexts with which to relate their class-based learning
  • Participants normally have considerable experiential learning which they can present for the purposes of recognition for credits and exemptions from programme modules.

My particular perspective on the innovative paradigm informing the programme is coloured by my involvement as programme leader for the first delivery of the part-time ordinary degree from 2001, and my reflections are generally longitudinal and synthesised. In this paper I briefly set out the socio-economic context in which the degree was developed and the changing landscape of learning at work. I then consider why a paradigm shift in teaching and learning was urgently needed and how we as a team implemented that shift using adult learning theories and theories of work-based learning. Finally I draw some lessons from my experience around the nature of sustainable pedagogical change for part-time, mature learners in the workforce.


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