Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Progress with the Professional Spine: A Four-Year Engineering Design and Practice Sequence

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Progress with the Professional Spine: A Four-Year Engineering Design and Practice Sequence

Article excerpt

1 INTRODUCTION

Research demonstrates a need for repeated design experiences (CDIO Standard 5) throughout an undergraduate engineering program to develop confidence and competence for professional practice (Frank & Strong, 2008; 2010; Frank et al, 2009; Kotys-Schwartz et al, 2010). Such experiences are mandated by reports recommending increased focus on professional engineering practice in engineering education (Crawley et al, 2007; Sheppard et al, 2008) and are increasingly required by accreditation agencies under the Washington Accord (International Engineering Alliance, 2009).

Prior to 2011, Queen's University engineering had practiced a typical "bookend approach" to engineering design. Most students were exposed to a relatively non-technical design project in first year, and a very technical capstone design project in their fourth and final year, with little design experience in second and third years. This approach has been demonstrated to lead to poor design skill retention, and, in fact, regression in both confidence and ability to apply a design process (Frank & Strong, 2008; 2010; Frank et al, 2009; Kotys-Schwartz et al, 2010). Professional skills development in many programs was also limited largely to the first and fourth years.

The development of a four-year Engineering Design and Practice Sequence (EDPS) of project-based courses at Queen's began three years ago, directed by a Curriculum Review Committee (CRC) consisting of representatives from all engineering programs in the faculty of engineering, a student society representative, the Associate Dean, the Director of Program Development, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) Chair in Engineering Design, and members with economics, library, and professionalism expertise.

Our curriculum design draws upon the cognitive apprenticeship framework from Collins et al (1989) that builds upon the idea of an apprenticeship which "embeds the learning of skills and knowledge in their social and functional context". Recent engineering reports have recommended curricular changes based on these approaches, including an adoption of a cognitive apprenticeship model by Sheppard et al (2008). From Sheppard et al (2008), the first principle recommended for improving engineering education is:

   Provide a professional spine: During each year of
   their program, students should have experience
   with and reflect on the demands of professional
   practice, linking theory and practice. Engaging
   in increasingly practice-like experiences, the
   engineering equivalent of the clinical dimension
   of medical preparation would be a central feature
   of engineering education. This emphasis on
   professional practice would give coherence and
   efficacy to the primary task facing schools of
   engineering: enabling students to move from being
   passive viewers of engineering action to taking their
   place as active participants or creators within the
   field of engineering. In this process, the student
   would begin to develop an identity as an engineer.

There are a number of engineering schools in North America that offer design and/or professional skills sequences or "spines" within their programs. However, based on the information available in the literature, these are either within discipline-specific programs or in engineering schools that offer "general" engineering programs with some flexibility in choice of courses or course streams (Frank et al, 2011).

2 DESIGNING THE QUEEN'S EDPS COURSES

CDIO Standards 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 mandate the curriculum components that are key to the EDPS, as well as their integration (Crawley et al, 2007). Those standards are: Integrated Curriculum, Introduction to Engineering, Design Build Experiences, Integrated Learning Experiences, and Active Learning. The standards require at least two design/build experiences integrated into the core curriculum. …

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