Increasing Student Engagement with Graduate Attributes

By Maier, H. R.; Rowan, T. S. C. | Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, June 2007 | Go to article overview
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Increasing Student Engagement with Graduate Attributes

Maier, H. R., Rowan, T. S. C., Australasian Journal of Engineering Education


The need to develop generic graduate attributes in engineering students is well documented (eg. Barrie, 2004; Hoban et al, 2004) and the explicit statement/articulation of which graduate attributes are being developed as part of degree programs and courses is now common place (eg. Bullen et al, 2004; Business/Higher Education Round Table, 2003; Nirmalakhandan & White, 2000). In order to ensure these attributes are being developed in students, there has been a focus on staff development (Scoufis, 2000) and the adoption of appropriate teaching approaches (eg. Hoban et al, 2004; Wellington & Clarke, 2004). However, it is also important to ensure students engage with the concept of graduate attribute development, as student engagement is considered to enhance learning outcomes (Bowen, 2005; Carini et al, 2006; Cleary & Skaines, 2005). This is particularly important in the context of engineering education, as most engineering students dislike "soft" subjects and have an expectation that they will spend most of their time at university learning mathematical and technical skills (Trigwell & Yasukawa, 1999). One approach to engaging students is the use of e-Portfolios (eg. Sargison et al, 2005; Williams & Sher, 2004), which enable students to document which attributes they are developing throughout their studies (and beyond). An alternative is to provide students with the opportunity to reflect on and discuss the meaning, relevance and importance of graduate attributes. In order to achieve this, Zou et al (2004) used a workshop approach to enable students to identify which graduate attributes they consider to be important for their degree program, and to compare their responses with those provided by industry leaders and the University of New South Wales. In this paper, an alternative approach is presented, which is less time and resource intensive and can, therefore, be used in a single tutorial session.


The proposed approach revolves around a classroom exercise that has the following objectives:

1. To demonstrate the relevance and importance of the graduate attributes for a particular degree program or course.

2. To provide the opportunity for students to engage with, discuss and understand these graduate attributes.

As part of the exercise, groups of students discuss and rate the relevance of a set of graduate attributes from the perspective of a practising engineer, about whom they have been provided with relevant background information. This requires students to obtain an understanding of the meaning of the attributes and how they are relevant in a professional context. Next, the ratings (relevancy scores) given to each of the attributes by the student groups are compared with those provided by the actual engineers, followed by discussion about any similarities and differences between the scores. In addition to increasing student engagement with graduate attributes and student understanding of their importance and relevance, this exercise also provides students with an insight into what "real" engineers do, and what the students might expect to be doing once they graduate. The steps that need to be followed to successfully implement the approach outlined above are summarised in figure 1 and described below.


2.1 Identify suitable case study engineers

Ideally, the case study engineers should be people the students can relate to, such as past graduates of the degree program(s) the students are currently enrolled in. In addition, the case study engineers should have different levels of experience and be involved in different types of engineering work (eg. design, construction, etc) to provide students with an insight into the variety of attributes needed by professional engineers and how the attributes are applied in different contexts.

2.2 Obtain relevant information from case study engineers

In order to conduct the classroom exercise, information is needed about each of the case study engineers in relation to their personal background, their professional life and how they rate the importance/ relevance of each of the graduate attributes.

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