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

Author - Kevin Kelly

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Arguments against the new paradigm

One of the most disturbing challenges to my own pedagogical approach was the reluctance of participants to accept that it might be a superior method to those they had previously experienced. They could not identify sufficient learning benefits for increased investment of time and energy on their part, especially since they were all working in an intensive job already.

Additionally, my experience was that self-directed learning requires a level of knowledge to enable success: if participants are required to learn something new, then they invariably revert to dependency on the academic and may suspend their right to be independent adults at the door of the academy in order to learn more successfully. They temporarily accept an unequal relationship between teacher and student and accept the authority of expert knowledge in order to be successful (Edwards et al. 1996).

It could be argued that engineering is essentially a curriculum-centred discipline with only limited scope for a constructivist approach to learning in the part-time mode. Silcock and Brundrett, in Middlewood and Burton (2001) offer three models of curriculum design in this regard as follows:

  1. teacher/subject centred
  2. partnership approach
  3. student-centred.

In terms of curricula and pedagogies, it is fair to conclude that sustainable change in approach cannot be forced on an unwilling community of academics or learners. Lumby, in Middlewood and Burton (2001) warns that managing teaching and leaning is a political as well as a technical process and that any innovation will only be accepted in proportion to the degree of support that exists or has been constructed. It must be expected that opposition will present itself and divergent views will be offered. Nonetheless, change took place on the part-time degree in a collaborative way, and a constructivist programme was designed and delivered successfully by a motivated team. The key to successful change appears to be building on a collaborative team with all stakeholders, and avoiding the imposition of new theories against the will of stakeholders.

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