In search of key drivers for success in first year engineering courses
Leaver, Jonathan; Fernando, D. Achela
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Citation:Leaver, J.D., and Fernando, D.A. (2013). In search of key drivers for success in first year engineering courses. In C. Lemckert, G. Jenkins and S. Lang-Lemckert (Eds.), Australasian Association for Engineering Education proceedings and conference(Ed.), Dec 8-11.
Permanent link to Research Bank record:http://hdl.handle.net/10652/2776
BACKGROUND In 2010 and 2011 staff at Unitec Institute of Technology (Unitec) became increasingly concerned at the declining success rate of students in undergraduate Diploma level engineering courses. Unitec is the largest provider of technician and technologist level engineering education in New Zealand with over 340 full time equivalent students enrolled in either the two year New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (Civil) or the three year Bachelor of Engineering Technology (Civil). In order to identify key drivers to student success a study of 73 classes incorporating 95 courses offered in 2010 and 2011 across a range of civil engineering subjects was undertaken to identify the causes for the declining success rate and implement systems to address the issue. PURPOSE The purpose of this study is to identify key drivers for success for first year students studying in the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (Civil). The study focused on this group as they have the lowest success rates but are the most important single source of students with most of them staircasing into the Degree. The findings of this study are to be used to bring in changes to the course delivery in a way that the student retention, course completion and overall student satisfaction is improved. DESIGN/METHOD In this study 95 engineering courses offered over an 18 month period were examined. Each course was classified according to three criteria. These are firstly the proportion of mathematical content in the course; secondly class size; and finally the percentage of degree and diploma students in each class. Success rates were then analysed both by course level and by programme to determine course content based key drivers. RESULTS The study found that successful completion rates for first year (Level 4) Diploma students declined from 54% to 47% from 2010 to 2011 while those in the Degree (Level 5) rose marginally from 67% to 69%. For students who completed at least one assessment individual course success rates were as low as 38% in the Diploma and 50% in the Degree. Student dropout rates nearly halved after the first year of study in both the Degree and the Diploma from 17% and 21% respectively to 8% and 12%. However success rates were persistently low in both the Degree and Diploma with the overall success rate in the Degree ranging from 68% at Level 5 to 88% at Level 7 while in the Diploma success rates ranged from 51% at Level 4 to 76% at Level 6. Success rates showed no dependence on class size, mathematical content or the mix of degree and diploma students in a single class. CONCLUSIONS An analysis of success rates in the three year civil engineering degree and two year civil engineering diploma shows that there is no significant dependency of success rate on either class size, mathematical content of the course, or the percentage mix of degree and diploma students in combined classes. Students’ ability to make the transition from a directed learning environment at high school to a self-directed learning environment at Unitec is considered to be the most significant factor. We propose pre-semester credit-bearing introductory block course(s) in engineering fundamentals for first year students to assess and develop self-directed learning skills.