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SEED projects 2017 – Writing, Writing Everywhere

Engineering systems thinking: Experienced-based learning

Dr Cody Mankelow

Dr Cody Mankelow

Dr Cody Mankelow, Dr Gary Miller, Ian Wright, Jim Hefkey, Dr Marija Tutulic, Dr Susann Beier, Colin Nicholas (Faculty of Engineering)

Cody describes this project as “an experience-based tutorial program developed for teaching engineering system thinking and project management”. Because it is based around soft skills which are most effectively learnt via experience supplemented with guidance, Engineering systems thinking is a topic difficult to teach in the conventional manner.

This project looks at two courses designed to equip students with the non-technical tools and professional skills necessary to work in Engineering after graduation. Our current teaching model consists of lectures, tutorials, and a project-based assignment carried out by large teams of approximately 10-20 students. The project-based assignment requires students to analyse an open-ended project brief and generate an industry-style report, which describes the approach the students would take, the feasibility of the options they have generated, and an implementation plan. Students often find this challenging as they have had little experience executing the specific elements required for generating the overall report.

The courses’ teaching team have long aspired to develop an e-learning package of simulation/experience-based learning of engineering systems thinking. With this, we envisaged a far more nuanced learning experience for students, which could expose them to more variables and functions resembling a real project development experience. In order to achieve this goal, it was important to test the feasibility of the tutorial exercises to achieve the learning outcomes.

Overall the tutorial program was a success and well-received. A voluntary survey about its efficacy received responses from approximately 50% of a cohort of about 700. Students rated the tutorial program effective in improving their understanding of project management, engineering systems thinking, interpersonal skills, group work and verbal communication. They were less responsive to the reflective writing incorporated in the tutorial program and only 31% of respondents found the tutorial program effective in improving their written communication. The course and tutorials are heavily group-based, which can make it difficult for students to assess their personal development. The reflective writing component aimed to assist students to track this development and to practise and improve their writing skills. Unfortunately, the volume of students made it impossible to provide meaningful feedback to all students on their written ability. Fewer reflective essays, and a marking scheme altered to more pointedly focus on the quality of written communication is expected to resolve this issue.