2nd AECEF International Symposium

A Summary Report

The 2nd ACEF International Symposium was held in Odense, Denmark, during 5-7 May 1997. The Symposium had three themes: Quality in Civil Engineering Education, Assessment of Civil Engineering Education and The Impact of Trainee Services on Qualifications of Civil Engineering Graduates. To enable discussion, White Papers on the three themes had been prepared by Manfred Federau (Engineering College of Odense, Ben Barr (University of Wales, Cardiff), and Roger Mayo (Loughborough University). In addition, 15 papers covering the above themes, together with 2 Critique Papers, were presented during the Symposium.

In order to facilitate in-depth discussion, the Symposium was organised in the form of several Workshops, on the three themes. The following reports describe the salient points emerging from the three Workshops.

Workshop 1

Quality in Civil Engineering Education

Report prepared by Kuldeep Virdi

The discussion on Quality in Civil Engineering Education was based on the white paper prepared by Manfred Federau, and also on the following presentations during the course of the workshop.

As there were many common points emerging from the presentations, it was agreed to structure the discussion around the list of questions appearing in the white paper by Manfred Federau. The following is a brief summary of the wide ranging debate that took place.

Q3 Should the education be broad or narrow? The implication is whether the graduates should be generalists or specialists?

Q6 Should the education aim for a broad orientation or on depth of learning

The above two questions had overlapping connotations and, hence, were discussed together. The general response from industry is that both types of graduate - generalist and specialist - were needed. In nearly every country, many educational institutions aim to produce the generalist, while some aim to develop the specialist. It was reported that in the USA many employers preferred the generalist degree graduates. Yet, widespread existence of postgraduate courses indicated that the specialists too were needed.

There was the related question of whether ”general studies” should be part of engineering education. In Aarne Jutila’s critique on Quality in Civil Engineering Education: Comments (Page 35), reference is made to the place of cultural aspects in engineering syllabus. The discussion concluded that these aspects are definitely desirable, but pressures on time within a modern syllabus in Civil Engineering make it difficult for them to be included.

Comments were made on the aims of a generalist, multi-disciplinary approach. One is to develop in the graduate a knowledge of where to seek more specialist information, and secondly to develop an ability to address complex problems with innovative solutions.

Q11 Structural Planning

Q13 Method Planning

Q14 How are the students and staff involved in the planning process

These three questions were considered together. Perhaps there were as many approaches possible for the methods and strategies for the improvement of quality as there were independent educational systems in existence. However, it emerged that, basically, the planning systems were influenced by two types of control - Internal and External.

Internal procedures: The alternatives in use were identified:

Many institutions have Faculty or Departmental Boards of Study, which answer either directly to Senate, or to a sub-committee of Senate such as a Courses Committee. It appears that most institutions have either an annual or a 3-yearly review of course content and syllabus, as established internal procedure for quality control. It was agreed that it was not sufficient for the course owner alone to be responsible for ensuring quality control. Similarly, while the Dean would be able to impose some measure of control on quality, it was considered that the breadth of subjects involved in Civil Engineering would make it difficult for any Dean to be equally knowledgeable in all areas.

External procedures: The following systems in use were identified

In many countries, degree courses are accredited by professional institutions. For example, in the UK, courses in Civil Engineering are accredited by a joint board of moderators which includes the Institution of Civil Engineers as well as the Institution of Structural Engineers. In the North America, this role is performed by ABET. The importance of accreditation is that only those courses which are accredited become acceptable as the basic qualification for registration as a practising professional engineer. Clearly, the accreditation process has an important influence on the quality of the courses. It should be added that the accreditation ensures minimum level of quality, but does not necessarily recognise higher quality courses. It is customary to review courses for accreditation once every 5 years.

The quality audit of procedures, recently introduced in the UK, serves the purpose of ensuring that good quality procedures are in place so as to allow delivery of quality courses. The existence of these procedures is necessary, but not sufficient, for the delivery of quality in education. The emphasis is placed on ”writing it down”, as mentioned in the white paper. The quality audit is performed typically once in every five years.

Formal assessment of teaching quality has recently been introduced in the UK. The assessment is carried out by a national pool of assessors, drawn from the academic community. A given institution is visited by a panel of around 5 assessors. Assessment is made under several aspects, including

Curriculum Design, Content and Organisation
Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Student Progression and Achievement
Student Support and Guidance
Learning Resources
Quality Assurance and Enhancement

It will be seen that some of the aspects relate to provision of resources from the central administration (Student Support and Learning Resources), but most relate to the effort from the teachers. The assessment team in fact sit in on the lectures current at the time of the visit, and teachers are awarded marks on their performance.

Experience in the UK so far indicates that the Teaching Assessment visits have a significant effect on the awareness of teachers in relation to their approach to teaching good quality courses. The frequency of these assessment visits is not yet known, but in view of the large scale of the process, is likely to be not less than six years. There is some possibility in the future, not announced as yet, that some of the teaching related funding may be weighted in accordance with the scores achieved in the Teaching Quality Assessment.

The system of external examiners is used in many countries. In the UK, this is in the form of one or two senior external academics being formally appointed as external examiner for a set period, typically 3 years. The duties of external examiners are related principally to the examination and assessment of student performance. This involves moderation of examination questions at the time of setting the papers, and subsequently a review of the marking by examiners, as well as participation in the meeting of the board of examiners to determine the overall ranking of the student performance. In Denmark, an external examiner is associated with each individual course module. Typically this would be a practising professional. This has the merit that the external examiner is usually an expert in the subject, whereas in the system as used in the UK, the external examiner is required to cover the full range of subjects in the Civil Engineering curriculum.

Q17 Other methods of improving quality - Evaluation and Feedback

Most universities have some feedback procedures in place. The feedback relates to comments from the students on:

The primary aim of the feedback process is to assist the teachers in improving the delivery of courses year on year. The typical method used is to distribute anonymous questionnaires to students, and to ask them to return these, not necessarily to the relevant teachers directly. The comments from the students are kept confidential between the teacher concerned and the administrative head. A statistical summary of the feedback, without identifying individual teachers, is discussed at the appropriate study board, which usually includes student representatives.

Occasionally, the feedback information is used in staff appraisal, and may also be used in deciding on the question of promotion.

The Workshop devoted some further time to discussing effective delivery methods. The usual alternatives are:

Recordings - videos, tapes, etc.

Some of the newer modes include:

CAL - Computer-assisted-learning

The potential of computer based methods is recognised, although there are not many examples of effective CAL courses. This will be the theme of the next General Assembly and Symposium.

There was considerable interest among the delegates in the UK Research Assessment methods for quality in research. For research, departments are required to make submissions on research output measured by:

Research grant income per head
Quality of selected number of publications
Number of research students and research assistants supervised by each academic
Number of successful PhD students

The assessment is made by a single panel of experts for each subject area such as Civil Engineering. Departments are given ratings on the scale 5*,5,4,3a,3b,2 and 1. These ratings have funding implication. Departments with ratings of 2 and 1 receive no funding for research. For the others, there is graded funding, the highest quantum for the 5* rating and a nominal quantum for 3b.

Workshop 2

Assessment of Civil Engineering Education

Report prepared by Jiri Vaska

The discussion on the second topic of the 2nd AECEF International Symposium on Assessment of Civil Engineering Education was based on the white paper prepared by Professor B.I.G.Barr of the University of Wales, Cardiff, UK and comments and critique that were presented by Professor José M.F.P. Lemos of the University of (O)Porto, Portugal.

The discussion proceeded from the exchange of information about accreditation and assessment systems that were used in different countries, such as the UK, Romania, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Russia, Czech Republic, Denmark and the USA. The discussion concluded that a process of assessment has been developed in some countries as a regular tool of control of quality of education process resulting in a good quality of product of this process, namely, civil engineering graduates. However, in many countries, a process of development of such a control system is at its beginning and experience obtained in ”advanced” countries are an important contribution to this development process.

The discussion answered several important questions:

It was concluded that four key areas (or elements) of assessment generally exist:

study programmes and curricula
teaching and learning process
students achievements
assessment and academic support for students

However, the criteria for each key area differ based on specific conditions and historical development of an educational systems in different countries and universities.

The discussion concluded that engineering academics need educational professionalism as well as subject professionalism. The base for subject professionalism of university teachers should be their own research and close links with industry. However, engineering academics should also have a certain amount of knowledge of ”engineering pedagogy” as the method of teaching that influences creativity of students and contributes to the training of analytical and synthetical thinking.

What role could AECEF play in the development of assessment procedure?

A positive and very important conclusion was that the Association has created a forum where different areas of quantity and quality of civil engineering education can be presented and discussed in an informal way.

The Association could also present, in its Newsletter, different assessment and accreditation systems and procedures that are used in different countries.

The Association can formulate a general recommendation and guidelines for assessment based on analysis of assessment systems used in different countries.

The workshop proved that it is necessary to discuss problems of civil engineering education. The free flow of information, academics, graduates, etc. in Europe and in the world that moves toward integration requires finding of an optimal balance between general criteria that could enable assessment of quality of civil engineering educational systems on the one hand , and on the other hand preserve specific features of different universities that exist through their historical development.

Workshop 3

The Impact of Trainee Service on the Qualifications of Civil Engineering Graduates

Report prepared by Roger Mayo

This workshop was chaired by Tapani Hahtokari from Vaasa Institute of Technology. It was introduced by Roger Mayo from Loughborough University with comment and critique from Peter Wald from Acerplan Planungsgesellschaft mbH, Halle. Other contributions were received from Jaques Lérau and Gérard Pons from Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, Toulouse, Rodolfo Viola from the University of Buenos Aires and Zygmunt Meyer from the Technical University of Szczecin.

A good and lively discussion took place with additional contributions from Gerhard van Bremen, Zeljko Korlaet, Josef Machacek, Hani Melhem, Lynne Moore and Jürgen Sander.

In the Reports Session the chairman highlighted the following points of the discussion.

  1. Placement in a foreign culture:
    • Placements can only be successful if supported fully by individual managers. Trainees need help to integrate into the culture, especially with things like tax and health insurance.
    • The employer generally has no opportunity to interview overseas students, and so the university must be trusted to send suitable candidates.
    • Students must be self-motivated, with the ability to learn on their own without a lot of detailed supervision. The trainee need not necessarily possess the highest technical ability but good communication skills are essential.
    • Motivation and common sense are the most important student attributes.
  2. Trainee or Employee?

    Practice varies from country to country. UK students are full-time employees, while in Finland students work as employees during their last tuition period, at the same time as doing their final project work. In Croatia, the placement time was too short at two months for useful work. In Poland, students have to earn their keep by paying their way for the employer while in the old Danish system students had done a four year apprenticeship before going on to a Teknikum or a University. This Danish system was the most popular with employers and produced the most successful students, because at university they were older and already had knowledge of building construction. The drop in the number of trained craftsmen in the late 1980s has forced a change to an integrated scheme with two training periods.

  3. Observer or worker?

    The conclusion can be summarised in the phrase: "It's nice to watch football but it's better to play".

  4. Benefits

    Attention was drawn to Figure 1 in Roger Mayo's paper which emphasised the higher grades of degree gained by students who had done a sandwich year compared with those who had not. It was generally agreed that the sandwich year increases confidence as shown by an improvement in presentation skills.

Summary of Workshop 3 discussions

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