Generic Skills Teaching in Materials Science and Engineering
Hoddinott, John, Young, David, Journal of Engineering Education
University education has been very effective in preparing graduates to be discipline experts but there has been an increased emphasis on students becoming more generalist in their abilities. This paper examines the opinions that instructors and students have about the teaching of generic skills in a School of Materials Science and Engineering in Australia. In interviews, both groups demonstrated a limited understanding ofwhat constituted generic skills, but classroom observation found broad evidence of a range of such skills being taught and practiced. We conclude that it would be an advantage for the students, and their subsequent employers, if instructors worked to make the teaching and practice of generic skills more explicit in their course materials.
Employers of university graduates frequently comment on the need for their recruits to possess abilities other than those relating to the academic or technical knowledge of the discipline they studied as students. For example, employers place a high value on graduates being able to communicate effectively, work in teams, be self-starters and be critical thinkers and problem solvers. The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) in the UK has emphasized the importance of graduates developing self-reliance skills during their degree programs. "The self-reliant graduate is aware of the changing world of work, takes responsibility for his or her career and personal development and is able to manage the relationship with work and learning throughout all stages of life."1 These non-discipline specific abilities developed in and around degree programs are usually referred to as generic skills. Lists of generic skills commonly include problem solving, critical thinking, analytical skills, communication and information technology skills and teamworking/networking abilities. In the recommendations for improvements to engineering education, in the same vein, The Institution of Engineers, Australia (IEAust) stressed the need to broaden the discipline specific aspects of the engineering curriculum to promote the development of, amongst others, communication, teamwork and lifelong learning skills.2 The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology3 has made similar recommendations for Engineering Schools in the United States.
In Australia, graduates from university programs are invited by the Federal Government Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) to complete a Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ six months after they graduate. The survey data are grouped in five scales, one of which relates to generic skills. "The inclusion of this scale in the survey is an attempt to take into account the extent to which university courses add value to the generic skills which their graduates might be expected to possess."4
The CEQ data is published and allows interested parties to compare what students, graduating from different universities with comparable degrees, think of the programs they have completed. That data may then facilitate curriculum planning by the departments and schools commented on, and this may lead to greater numerical scores for student satisfaction on future rounds of the survey. For the School involved in this study, the students reported relatively low CEQ_scores for the teaching of generic skills. At the same time, the School's Visiting Committee of employers representing industry and government expressed a high level of satisfaction with the skill sets demonstrated by the graduates. This study was, in part, carried out to examine that paradox and also to assess the validity of the low CEQ scores on generic skills.
There are many different models of generic skills.-' In terms of their development within programs, it has been argued that a more fundamental curriculum reform might be more appropriate than the simple addition of key skills to existing curricula. This is because reviews of educational processes as well as of educational outcomes are seen to be of comparable importance. …