Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Designing the Future

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Designing the Future

Article excerpt


This paper presents selected findings from a two-day Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) funded regional forum held in April 2009 at the University of New South Wales, as part of the ALTC project "Design based curriculum reform within engineering education". A forum was proposed for the project because of its effectiveness in focusing stakeholders towards the systemic issues necessary to improve design pedagogy throughout the curriculum (Dym et al, 2005). The forum brought together 40 leading academics from around Australia, 40 industry representatives primarily from within the Sydney basin and 20 senior students, to reconceptualise engineering curricula around a design core. An engineering design approach was used to consider how a curriculum based strongly around engineering design (that is, problem solving, engineering application and practice) might be achieved. While the forum had many aims, on the first day participants engaged in a structured workshop to identify emerging trends and needs, individual and organisational responses to these challenges, and from this, to specify the competencies which graduate engineers require. Subsequent workshop activities then identified constraints that might limit or restrict the acquisition of some of the required competencies, before arriving at strategies to overcome the constraints. It is these findings that are the focus of this paper.

The current ALTC project builds on the outcomes and recommendation of a previous ALTC project report titled "Engineers for the Future: addressing the supply and quality of Australian engineering graduates for the 21st century" (King, 2008). This report revealed that while progress has been made in addressing the concerns raised in a i995-96 review of the national engineering education system (Institution of Engineers Australia, i996), there are areas that have not progressed as expected. The areas relevant to this project are:

* high levels of student attrition

* lower incentives within the system for improving teaching than for developing research

* effects of research appointments over teaching appointments and barriers to promotion

* concerns that the balance of subjects within current engineering curricula are not adequately matched to graduates' and industry's current and future needs.

It is the last of these areas that this forum sought to address synergistically with recommendation three of the preceding ALTC project report (King, 2008):

   Engineering schools must develop best practice engineering
   education, promote student learning and deliver intended graduate
   outcomes. Curriculum will be based on sound pedagogy, embrace
   concepts of inclusivity and be adaptable to new technologies and
   inter-disciplinary areas.

The forum focused on the following milestones within this recommendation:

* increasing employer satisfaction with engineering graduates

* increasing graduate satisfaction with educational experiences and transitions to employment

* increasing recognition and empowerment of engineering educators within universities

* systematic and holistic educational design practices with learning experiences and assessment strategies that focus on delivery of designated graduate outcomes (King, 2008).

The first day's workshop activities were developed in order to converge quickly on a shared understanding of the required graduate competencies, without churning over old ground. Once the shared understanding was established (see table 4), the activities that followed sought to identify various constraints around developing some of the graduate competencies, and strategies to overcome the constraints.


A unique aspect of this forum was the active involvement of a broad cross-section of participants from industry (37%), academia (49%) and students (14%), totalling 80 in all. …

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