The application of learning skills in an engineering
The structure of the Academic Development
and Key Skills module is based on the recognition that students
require their social, personal and psychological needs to be addressed
in addition to their academic needs. It is the overlooking, or lack
of recognition, of these ‘non-academic’ needs that can
have a significant impact on the third level student’s ability
to complete a programme of study, as well as to make a successful
transition to the workforce (Gibbs
et al. 1994).
The structure of the module is also based on recommendations from
employers and on research completed during 2001/02 by Frank Costello,
Retention Officer at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) (Curry,
Sherry and Tunney 2006; Costello
and Russell 2002). The study focuses on the experiences of first
year students at DIT and evaluates the responses of 1,356 students
across 43 programmes in the six faculties at the institute. Costello
identifies four types of students: (1) the ‘at risk student’;
(2) the ‘struggler’; (3) the ‘average student’;
and (4) the ‘confident student’. The needs identified
for the first two types of students relate to many personal identity
issues, such as confidence, career choice and course choice. Academic
issues pertaining to study skills relate to the first three categories
(Costello and Russell 2002).
In light of the results of this survey, humanistic psychological
research was incorporated into the formation of the Academic Development
and Key Skills module. The intention was to utilise this information
to address further the variety of issues, both academic and non-academic,
that are presented by a typical third level student population.
The Academic Development and Key Skills module comprises the following
elements: one-hour lectures; supplemental laboratory classes; research
projects; and workshops/seminars. The students are actively involved
in class discussions, peer learning, presentations, group work and
individual assignments, as well as problem based learning. In this
way the module facilitates the students’ development of how
to learn in an academic setting with the objective of transferring
these skills to the world of employment.
The concept of peer learning has been integrated into study skills
assignments based on its successful integration into programmes
in both Ireland and abroad (Ehly
and Topping 1998; Adelgais,
King and Staffieri 1998). Derived from the psychological concept
of modelling, otherwise known as observational/social learning theory,
the basis of this theory is that learning can occur through the
process of observing the activities of others. The academic environment,
the behaviour of the learners and the students’ own cognitions/beliefs
thus form important aspects of the learning process (Huitt and Hummel
2006), and efforts have been made to create a supportive and positive
learning environment that fosters the academic and personal development
of students. This in turn helps to create an atmosphere that promotes
deep learning. It is important to recognise that is reflective also
of the ethos of the degree programme in DIT (Department
of Electrical Services Engineering 2004).
A typical example of an assignment for the first year group requires
the students, in small groups, to participate in a college based
scavenger hunt. This activity requires them to locate specific items
and areas that are relevant to their college experience, for example
finding the location of the mathematical learning centre, the medical
centre, the library and, of course, the departmental secretary.
Next, the students are required to write a group essay on teams
and their development. As part of the exercise, the students must
include their personal reflections of their team experiences during
the scavenger hunt. Both aspects of this task are meant to assist
the students with skills such as problem solving, goal setting,
conflict management, group work, self-reflection, research skills,
computer skills and written communication.
In the second year of the Academic and Key Skills module, the students
teach workshops on specific skills such as presentation skills,
memory techniques, and examination revision to first year students.
The workshops include active learning exercises that require self-assessment
as well as a practical application of the specific skill set being
taught. What emerges is a mentoring relationship between the first
year and second year students. This relationship is enriched by
the insights that the second year students have gained from their
experiences during their first year of the programme.
Each year of the module is examined by means of continuous assessment
and progression from one year to the next requires a pass mark.
The benefit of this method of assessment is that the students further
develop their independent learning skills thus preparing them for
lifelong learning (Department
of Electrical Services Engineering 2004). In addition, students
are encouraged to reflect on their own personal developmental and
academic progress. Formative feedback regarding their academic performance
helps to encourage self-reflection.