The undergraduate learning and professional work environments differ in many ways. One difference relates to how projects and tasks are approached and managed. Within the learning environment there is wide variability in how students approach assessment tasks and assignments. Some students start their work at the earliest opportunity and some students leave their work until as late as possible. Conversely, within the professional work environment projects are formally planned, monitored and controlled through defined project management tools and processes. The inclusion of project management tools and processes within the undergraduate engineering curriculum is not new. Their use is an element of the Engineers Australia’s Stage 1 competency standard, and activities such as the Final Year Engineering Project (FYEP) can provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate their application. However, not all FYEPs use this opportunity and other opportunities exist within degree programs.
The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of, and challenges associated with, requiring students to apply formal management processes and tools to a design project undertaken in a concurrent course.
A project based learning (PBL) exercise was developed in the third year Engineering Management and Planning course to introduce students to the fundamentals of project management. In preference to constructing a scenario, or providing a case study for use, students were required to formally plan and manage their own design project in a concurrent course. The plan, documented evidence of its implementation, and an individual reflection at the conclusion of the project were used for assessment. The student reflections were also used by teaching staff to assess the effectiveness of the exercise and identify areas for improvement.
The introduction of the PBL exercise from a teaching perspective has been beneficial overall but has also been challenging, particularly in relation to the timing of suitable design projects in concurrent courses. From a student perspective the individual reflections indicate varying levels of engagement with the exercise, resulting in varying student outcomes.
Project management tools and processes are used in the professional work environment to maintain standards and/or improve project outcomes. By requiring their use at the undergraduate level the difference between how students and engineers approach their work has the potential to be reduced, thereby better preparing graduates for employment.
Project management, industry practice, professional skills.