Reviews of Engineering Education have highlighted the importance of developing the professional skills required by practicing engineers, such as communication, teamwork, report writing and so on. The majority of engineering programs in Australia have at least one or two first year courses that initiate the development of these skills. However, not all of these introductory engineering practice courses explicitly teach students how to work in teams. After first year, the development of professional practice skills may be left to one or maybe two management type subjects. This paper examines an alternative model that uses a combination of practice courses and mainstream technical courses in a Civil Engineering bachelor degree program to provide explicit teaching and learning development of professional skills. It focuses particularly on the challenges of developing teamwork skills in the context of a highly culturally and linguistically diverse student body.
Over the last 15+ years we have adopted a continuous review and improvement approach to curriculum development and built a project-based program that is highly regarded. However, the program team felt that there was room for improvement and this provided the motivation for the change in practice described in this paper. Our goal is to ensure that all of our students, regardless of their cultural, language and educational background can demonstrate that they have achieved the Engineers Australia Stage 1 competencies relevant to professional skills development, in addition of course to the necessary technical skill development.
There were two main strategies used to strengthen professional skill development. The first was to embed skills development in at least one and preferably two mainstream courses in every year of the four year program. The second was to engage with experts from the non-engineering space (eg. student counsellor and curriculum designer) to work with the engineering academics, develop and co-teach specific components or projects within each course that explicitly included teaching and learning activities around professional skills. All of the changes and innovations made in these courses have been evaluated in detail using a range of methods including course experience surveys, one-minute evaluations and analysis of learning journals.
Formal and informal evaluations, in the courses where this approach has been applied, show that this has provided an effective and deep learning experience for students with increased teamwork competence and confidence in working inclusively. This initiative has been extended into later years of the Civil Engineering program and evaluation of its impact is being undertaken.
This approach will be further developed and applied across the program. It will be evaluated and continuously improved as we have students who have experienced it throughout their degree.
Professional skills, teamwork, diversity.