Engaging Students In Engineering Curriculum Renewal Using Threshold Concepts

Engaging Students In Engineering Curriculum Renewal Using Threshold Concepts

S. Male, C. MacNish, C. Baillie (2012).  Engaging Students In Engineering Curriculum Renewal Using Threshold Concepts. 10.

In 2009 the University of Western Australia announced a transition to a new Bologna-style (“3+2”) course structure, and began planning for implementation in 2012. In this structure, professional qualifications such as engineering would be completed in a two year masters programme, following an undergraduate programme that balances depth with breadth. The

Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics recognised this as an opportunity for generational change in its programmes. Had the attributes and competencies required evolved since the current courses were designed, and what would be the best practice course for coming decades? In answering these questions we brought to bear ideas from a range of engineering education literature and expertise, including CDIO and problem-based learning, studies of graduate competencies, input from accreditation bodies including Engineers Australia, and threshold concept theory [1-5].

A key principle of the new engineering course design was that students should develop a rigorous mastery of engineering fundamentals and a shared common experience, before proceeding to discipline-specific studies. To achieve this, we developed a set of integrated engineering foundation units, complemented by studies in mathematics, computing, physics and chemistry. A key approach to the integration of the engineering foundation material was the use of threshold concept theory. This is a new theory in higher education, which recognizes that many disciplines have key concepts that form a barrier to progress, but once mastered are transformative: they can be thought of as gateways to student progress [6]. This can be used to improve student learning, and also focus an otherwise crowded curriculum [7]. We engaged students and academics in improving engineering education in the foundation units. The approach could be used to focus any engineering curriculum.

One of the most interesting results observed in the workshops with both students and staff was the crossdisciplinary nature of the thresholds that emerged. By identifying threshold concepts we have focused lessons on the concepts most transformative and troublesome for students.

The paper describes how we identified the threshold concepts, some of the threshold concepts and insights that were identified by students, and curriculum features resulting from the threshold concept approach.



Authors (New): 
Sally A Male
Cara K MacNish
Caroline A Baillie
The University of Western Australia, Australia
threshold concepts
Curriculum Development
Engineering education
Student engagement
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