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"Don't know what we'll be doing yet": Enhancing career preview and engagement among undergraduate engineering students

25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education : Engineering the Knowledge Economy: Collaboration, Engagement & Employability

Abstract: Recruitment and retention is a key concern for Australian engineering, with indications that 40% of engineering graduates work in other professions rather than in engineering (Tilli and Trevelyan, 2010) and attrition from Australian engineering degrees standing at around 35% (Godfrey and King, 2011). The attrition of students and graduate engineers has led to concerns that students may enter engineering study without understanding the realities of either their degree programs or engineering work. This study contributes to understanding these issues and explores possible approaches to address them.

Background: This study built on previous research in which potential threshold concepts in an engineering foundation program were identified by engineering educators and students, and negotiated by engineering educators around Australia, and in New Zealand and Europe (Male, 2012; Male and Baillie, 2011; Parkinson, 2011). The project revealed understanding of 'roles of engineers', the 'value of learning', and 'self-directed learning', as threshold concepts. These concepts were found to be transformative and troublesome for many students and they were likely to be linked (Meyer and Land, 2003). Using an innovative pedagogical design we explored how students might be supported to explore and manage these concepts within the existing curricular structures of undergraduate programs.

Purpose: To better understand the three concepts identified above and to determine how teaching staff could support students to negotiate them, the current study drew on research that had successfully enhanced students' career preview, self-efficacy and identity development in other disciplines (Bennett, 2012) and applied this thinking to engineering.

Design/Method: The study combined three theoretical frameworks. We engaged engineering students in workshops in which they investigated roles and attributes of engineers, the purpose of their studies, and their engineering goals. The workshops were designed to provide valuable learning experiences, and they were structured such that we could add to the existing body of research through data collection and analysis.

Results: The findings within each framework are consistent and informed each other; however, each framework provided unique insights into why students experienced the previously identified threshold concepts and each framework gave us different terminology to explain the students' experiences.

Conclusions: The three frameworks enriched understanding of the previously identified threshold concepts. The study draws attention to the need and opportunity for engineering educators to help students adopt presage or foundational thinking in relation to their engineering futures.

To cite this article: Male, Sally A and Bennett, Dawn. "Don't know what we'll be doing yet": Enhancing career preview and engagement among undergraduate engineering students [online]. In: Bainbridge-Smith, Andrew (Editor); Qi, Ziming Tom (Editor); Gupta, Gourab Sen (Editor). 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education : Engineering the Knowledge Economy: Collaboration, Engagement & Employability. Barton, ACT: School of Engineering & Advanced Technology, Massey University, 2014: 1387-1394. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=425022204815273;res=IELENG> ISBN: 9780473304287. [cited 28 Jun 17].

Personal Author: Male, Sally A; Bennett, Dawn; Source: In: Bainbridge-Smith, Andrew (Editor); Qi, Ziming Tom (Editor); Gupta, Gourab Sen (Editor). 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education : Engineering the Knowledge Economy: Collaboration, Engagement & Employability. Barton, ACT: School of Engineering & Advanced Technology, Massey University, 2014: 1387-1394. DOI: Document Type: Conference Paper ISBN: 9780473304287 Subject: Engineering--Management; Concept learning; Standards, Engineering; Motivation in education; Education--Methodology; Engineering students--Employment; Peer Reviewed: Yes Affiliation: (1) School of Electrical, Electronic, and Computer Engineering, University of Western Australia, email: sally.male@uwa.edu.au
(2) Research and Graduate Studies, Curtin University

Database: Engineering Collection