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The application of learning skills in an engineering programme

Author - Leslie Shoemaker


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The role of developmental psychology

The general age of full-time students at the DIT is between 18 and 22 years. This age group corresponds with Erik Erikson’s adolescent and young adult stages in his theory of psychological development. From this theory two distinct target areas are highlighted: personal and social needs. These areas focus on the development of individual identity and relationships with others (Harder 2006).

Following Erikson’s theory, which is supported by the results of the survey conducted by Costello during 2001/02, a clearer picture of the needs of DIT students emerges. Students entering third level education are in the midst of the adolescent stage, which is characterised by identity versus role confusion conflict (Harder 2006). At this stage in any individual’s development, the person is searching and struggling for his/her identity with regard to self, occupation, politics as well as religion. This can be a very challenging experience for the third level student. During this time, students are faced with the prospect of forging new relationships, negotiating a new academic setting and, possibly, living in a new environment. In reality, a conflict regarding identity may manifest itself as an internal confusion where the student is attempting to make sense of who they are, what they believe, what they think, what they want/need while at the same time presenting this independent, all-knowing self to others. This experience can feel very confusing, isolating and threatening to the student, which can lead to an undermining of self-esteem, possible behavioural problems, or a lack of engagement with the programme. Interestingly these issues were identified in Costello’s study as being most prominent among the ‘struggler’ and ‘at-risk’ student categories (Costello and Russell 2002). Observation of students on the programme has revealed individuals who have been identified as ‘struggling’ academically or personally or in both areas. More, those students who have declined assistance from the Department of Electrical Services degree programme often withdraw during their first year in the DIT.

The Academic Development and Key Skills module is aimed at supporting students through the many academic and non-academic transitions they face, assisting the ‘at-risk’ or ‘struggling’ student to become the ‘average’ or ‘confident’ student. The successful completion of this developmental stage will affect programme satisfaction, healthy relationships, psychological well-being and social involvement and is linked to a positive outcome for the student in terms of commitment and endurance.

In the full-time student population, another phase of development encountered is young adulthood. This is characterised by the conflict of intimacy versus isolation in which the young adult must develop intimate relationships with others in order to proceed successfully to the next life stage, middle adulthood (Harder 2006). Once again, stepping out as an independent adult is the challenge of this particular age group. The individual may not have the skills to make this transitional step on his/her own. This may be observed in incidences of bullying, scapegoating, social isolation, difficulty in performing any activities, notwithstanding social or academic ones in which the spotlight is on them, as illustrated by Costello’s 2001/02 research (Costello and Russell 2002).

The successful completion of this stage will affect psychological well-being, relationships within the college, communication of needs, responsibility for self and social activity. The module thus aims to prepare the individual for entering the workplace by equipping them with learning skills that enable them to adapt to a work environment (Chan 2004).

In light of this information, the second year of the Academic Development and Key Skills module has a strong focus on group work. Students are provided with information about groups, how they form, the roles that are found within groups, communication and conflict management. The assignment work requires the students to apply this information to their own experiences within the module and to reflect on their own personal development in these areas. One of the main aims of the second year module is to assist the students with developing, understanding and fostering relationships within the class group, thus preparing students for the challenges that await them in their future professional and personal roles.


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