Learning linkages between projects and work placements in engineering education
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/15722
This research study investigated the combined learning linkages of engineering projects (Problem-Based Learning [PBL]) and work placements (Work-Integrated Learning [WIL]) in engineering education in New Zealand. The learning process of both approaches was analysed based on the development of engineering knowledge, technical, and non-technical skills (collectively employability skills) in students. This research is aligned with theories of constructionism and sociocultural theory to understand learners’ engagement in WIL and PBL as building knowledge through social interactions in classroom and work settings. Constructionism is a learning theory that puts importance on active knowledge construction by learners engaged in hands-on experiential learning activities. In this study, WIL and PBL are the hands-on experiential learning activities that aid in construction of engineering knowledge and skills of students through hands-on engineering practice. Sociocultural learning theory informs this study, as WIL and PBL can be considered approaches where learning happens as a social process, within a community of practise, where people are engaged in an activity, in a socially and culturally structured work environment. In this thesis, the PBL was engineering applied projects and WIL was work placements. Data collection occurred from five cohorts across different stages of their study by conducting online surveys, individual interview transcripts, document analysis, and direct observations. Investigation into classroom learning also provided students insight into fundamental engineering concepts/theories via lectures and tutorials. The engineering projects assisted students’ ability to relate theory with practise and the ability to relate and understand previously developed engineering knowledge embedded in the project’s problem statement. Additionally, engineering projects were primarily interdisciplinary across engineering, which aided in developing additional engineering knowledge. Students also acquired technical skills such as problem- solving, critical thinking, design and manufacturing abilities, 3D drawing skills, 3D software skills, tools/machinery experiences, and non-technical skills like teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills. The learning from engineering projects was then applied to students’ classroom learning and work placements. Learning from the classroom became the knowledge background for students, who then applied it to their future engineering projects. In work placements, students worked in an authentic work environment, allowing them to engage with authentic practise and develop professional skills. Students drew on their previous learnings from classroom and engineering projects through engineering practise. As work placements were interdisciplinary, they aided in developing additional engineering knowledge. In addition, work experience via industrial projects helped students gain and develop other non-technical skills such as time management, planning, and organising skills, project management, engineering work culture, work experience, work ethics, and professionalism. These findings suggested underlying learning linkages between engineering projects and work placements. Additionally, in this study, professional skills are used in place of employability skills. In general, all technical and non-technical skills may be commonly considered as employability skills, which are essential skills that make graduates employable. Employability skills is the common term used in WIL literature (Batholmeus & Pop, 2017; Jackson, 2013; Kilpatrick et al., 2021). Whereas, professional skills can be considered as specific profession related technical and non-technical skills, which may be different depending upon different type of workplace, while employability skills are a broad term, which may include professional skills in it. As students do different mechanical engineering work placements, so they develop different professional skills which may be different depending upon type of work placement. This study concludes that there are aspects of sequencing of scaffolding and complementary learning support between engineering projects and work placements. Engineering projects are placed before work placements to enable sequence of scaffolding of engineering knowledge and skills (technical and non-technical). Additionally, engineering projects provide new knowledge outside classroom learning, thereby, complementing classroom learning. Work placements builds on classroom and engineering projects learning as well as workplace acumen. Work placements are designed to complement projects and, through opportunities to practise in authentic work environments, may also develop employability skills. Therefore, the research findings present recommendations for engineering lecturers and WIL educators to emphasise individual learning outcomes and learning linkages between engineering projects and work placements, which may help enhance students’ understanding of engineering knowledge and engineering practise.
The University of Waikato
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