Developing 3D spatial skills for engineering students
KEYWORDS: 3D spatial visualisation; gender differences; student success.
ABSTRACT: Researchers have found that 3D spatial skills are critical to success in a
variety of careers, particularly in engineering and science. For engineering, the ability to
mentally rotate objects in space has been found to be of particular importance. Unfortunately,
of all areas of cognition, 3D spatial skills still exhibit some of the most robust gender
differences favouring males, and the most pronounced gender differences are in the area of
mental rotations. For this reason, poorly developed 3D spatial skills could be a hindrance to
the success of women in engineering. University educators are quick to recognise deficiencies
in math and chemistry, and many US universities have developed remediation programs for
students with weaknesses in these areas. At a time when we are actively recruiting women for
engineering programs, however, it is important to consider all possible barriers to their
success. At Michigan Technological University (MTU), we have been offering a special
course aimed at improving the 3D spatial skills of engineering students, particularly women,
since 1993. This paper will summarise the findings obtained over the past decade at MTU in
improving the 3D spatial skills of engineering students. The paper will also feature
improvements in student success that we have achieved, especially for women, through
implementation of this bridging course.
REFERENCE: Sorby, S. A. 2007, Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, Vol.
13, No. 1, pp. 1-12.
Activity and engagement – keys in connecting engineering with secondary school
KEYWORDS: Engagement; active learning; linkages.
ABSTRACT: Key factors in developing understanding of engineering among secondary
school students are real-world, activity-based experiences. Active learning experience is the
foundation of a program developed by the Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering at
Queensland University of Technology (QUT), in association with Queensland secondary
schools. The “Secondary Schools and QUT Engineering Activity Kits”, or “SQUEAK”
program, is an initiative that involves building relationships with secondary schools,
motivating and providing role models for engineers of the future, and attracting more students
to an engineering career. The program promotes engineering as a profession, increases
awareness of the role of engineers in society and benefits students making the decision to
study engineering. It assists in attracting quality students to engineering disciplines,
addressing long-term shortages in the engineering industry and declining engineering
enrolments in some disciplines. It helps secondary school students in connecting real-world
engineering with studies of science and mathematics in schools. The connection is enhanced
by final-year engineering students visiting high schools with hands-on, practical, problemsolving
activity kits, where they engage with the class over one or more lessons. The activity
kits are designed to be fully integrated within the subject curriculum. Teachers have part of
their curriculum presented by young aspiring engineers in context-rich, group-based activities.
All stakeholders benefit from the experience, with many questions being raised about the core
material, engineering issues, studies and university. The activity kits developed specifically
for this program are well grounded in engineering principles, and can be incorporated into
science, engineering and mathematics curriculum, giving students a contextual basis for
learning technical subjects. Although best presented by engineering students, they may be
used by teachers alone. This paper reports on the success of the program over the past five
years, and presents evaluations from both a teacher and student prospective.
REFERENCE: Dawes, L. & Rasmussen, G. 2007, Australasian Journal of Engineering
Education, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 13-20.
Increasing student engagement with graduate attributes
KEYWORDS: Graduate attributes; student engagement; case studies.
ABSTRACT: It is widely recognised that there is a need to develop a range of generic
graduate attributes in engineering students. In order to develop these attributes, universities
have employed a number of strategies, including staff development and the adoption of nontraditional
teaching methods. However, students also need to have a clear understanding of
the meaning of the attributes and why they are important in a professional engineering
context. Consequently, student engagement with graduate attributes is also an important
factor in their successful development. In this paper, an efficient approach for achieving this
is introduced and an example application presented. The proposed approach revolves around a
classroom exercise as part of which groups of students discuss and rate the relevance of a set
of graduate attributes from the perspective of a practising engineer, about whom they have
been provided with relevant background information. Next, the ratings (relevancy scores)
given to each of the attributes by the student groups are compared with those provided by the
actual engineers, followed by discussion about any similarities and differences between the
scores. In addition to increasing student engagement with graduate attributes and student
understanding of their importance and relevance, this exercise also provides students with an
insight into what “real” engineers do, and what students might expect to be doing once they
graduate. Such an exercise was conducted during a single 50-minute tutorial session in the
course Environmental Engineering II as part of the Civil & Structural and Civil &
Environmental degree programs at the University of Adelaide. A student survey indicated that
the exercise was successful in increasing student awareness of the existence of, the need for
and the importance of graduate attributes, as well as helping students to gain a better
understanding of their meaning.
REFERENCE: Maier, H. R. & Rowan, T. S. C. 2007, Australasian Journal of
Engineering Education, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 21-30.
Meeting the challenges of engineering education via online roleplay simulations
KEYWORDS: Online roleplay simulation (e-sim); generic skills; partnerships; net
generation learners; Mekong e-Sim.
ABSTRACT: Engineering education is undergoing continuous change. Drivers for this
change come from a number of sources, such as the K-12 pipeline (eg. school curricula,
student attitudes towards science and engineering), the profession (eg. accreditation
requirements, increasing globalisation and multidisciplinarity, increased emphasis on
sustainability), government (eg. increasing student to staff ratios), internationalisation (eg.
greater student diversity, geographically distributed student cohorts) and students (eg. the
need to cater for “Net Generation” learners). In order to meet the challenges posed by these
changes, creative approaches to teaching that foster partnerships in engineering education are
required. In this paper, one such approach is presented: online roleplay simulations. As part of
online roleplay simulations, multiple learners adopt the roles of stakeholders with varying
points of view and interact online about complex issues that do not have a single “correct”
outcome. This enables a number of the challenges faced by engineering educators to be met
within a flexible, pedagogically sound framework. For example, use of online roleplay
simulations facilitates the development of a range of generic graduate attributes in a manner
that actively engages students. In addition, cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional
partnerships can be developed to enable students and academic staff from different
backgrounds to interact with each other. This not only improves student learning experiences
and fosters academic staff development, but also enables vital resources to be shared between
institutions. Because interactions occur online, provision can also be made for student cohorts
that are becoming increasingly geographically distributed as a result of twinning arrangements
and offshore campuses. Finally, online roleplay simulations also cater for the needs and
learning styles of Net Generation learners (those born between 1982 and 1991), as they enable
students to work on realistic problems in an environment that is rich in imagery, provides
flexibility for time poor students and enables students to be socially connected. In this paper,
the benefits of online roleplay simulations are illustrated with a case study: the Mekong e-
REFERENCE: Maier, H. R. 2007, Australasian Journal of Engineering Education,
Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 31-40.
The competence dilemma in engineering education: Moving beyond simple graduate
KEYWORDS: Professional competence; accidental competencies; competence model.
ABSTRACT: A decade ago, major reviews of engineering education in Australia and the
USA resulted in a new, outcomes-based approach to program accreditation in engineering.
These outcomes are based on a set of Graduate Attributes derived to meet the perceived needs
of industry into the future. However, recent reports suggest that engineering graduates may
not have the competencies required for contemporary practice, even though program
outcomes have been designed to meet the stated needs of industry. This observable gap
between education and practice points to a set of underlying causes that we call the
competence dilemma in engineering education. This paper reviews the fundamental
assumptions on which outcomes-based education is built, in a way that was not considered at
the time of the earlier changes to program accreditation. It also critically examines the nature
of this perceptual gap between the Graduate Attributes that universities are striving to produce
in their graduates and the competencies needed in practice in order to perform satisfactorily in
industry. This entails the inclusion of the students’ attitudes and self-concept in the
conception of professional competence. This analysis of this competence dilemma suggests a
more holistic view of competence formation. On this basis, the paper presents the results of an
exploratory study into identifying alternative ways in which students’ competence is formed
and influenced in education. The analysis of the empirical study leads to a multi-scale systems
model of engineering competence, where the attitudes and self-image are located on a metalevel,
and organise and contextualise the individual’s particular set of competencies in a
specific work situation. At a time when authorities in both countries are reviewing the
operation and success of outcome based education in engineering, this paper points to an
evidence-based way forward to address the competence dilemma.
REFERENCE: Walther, J. & Radcliffe, D. F. 2007, Australasian Journal of
Engineering Education, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 41-52.