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3TU.CEE working visit to universities in Scotland: an impression

Saturday, 9 April 2016

3TU.CEE working visit to universities in Scotland: an impression

During a 2-day working visit to Edinburgh University and University of Strathclyde in Glasgow 3TU.CEE exchanged ideas and experience on innovating engineering education. Universities of technology in Scotland face similar challenges as their counterparts in the Netherlands.

Engineering principles
In Edinburgh one of the challenges identified was emphasising fundamental engineering principles amongst students. This is a familiar problem in the Netherlands too. Remarkably engineering students nowadays hardly know how to use a screwdriver of sketch properly and they lack skills in coping with ‘vague’ interdisciplinary problems. In an innovative learning week and a project design course attention is paid to these aspects while doing role plays. Students’ skills however did not necessarily improve. Nevertheless fundamental engineering principles must be emphasized amongst students. This is applied in some of the tests in which two sections are identified: simple engineering questions (of which 75% needs to be answered correctly) and a section with complex questions. Other challenges are rewarding teaching excellence, student staff ratio and incorporating a ‘ holistic’ approach to engineering.

Secondment was another topic that was extensively discussed. Secondment is a temporary transfer to another job within the organisation. In the case of Edinburgh it is often academic colleagues who move to a supporting academic development unit (ADU) for a part of the week during half a year. Research into secondment in England and Scotland finds that it 1) provides an authentic practice based experience, 2) promotes constructive individual development and 3) provides spaces for disruption: opportunities for academics to  talk to decision makers. Positive effect of secondment is that secondees become associates and help building communities. Negative findings are that after finishing the secondment, secondees often feel they are going “backwards”. They for example need to make up for routine work and although they have developed as individuals, this is not always recognised. Secondment is popular, but not always possible due to a lack of finding suitable replacements at the departments. Pro’s and con’s must carefully be weighted by departments, even though financial compensation is offered by ADU.

Embedding engineering
Challenges the University of Strathclyde is working on at the moment are attracting non-european students and gender balance. Besides this, an engineering academy was initiated, financed by the government, with the aim of widening access for students from deprived areas (bridging the ‘math’ gap between college and university). Another initiative is aimed at primary education, Primary Engineer. Engineers visit schools and help teachers develop fun activities and materials with engineering content to embed engineering in primary schools. 

Problem solving skills and assessment
Students that make the transition from high school to university have the same type of problems as we know in the Netherlands. Many of them lack study skills and problem solving skills. By setting up tutor groups this challenge is tackled and social cohesion is strengthened simultaneously. Tutors are mainly PhD candidates and teaching staff. Another important topic is improving feedback and assessment. Peer assessment is used. A new assessment policy has just been implemented. The policy is simple and easy to understand with a focus on tasks and responsibility of people.

Staff development
Strathclyde is very much involved in continuous staff development. A teaching excellence programme is offered with short practical masterclasses and ‘how to …’ sessions on specific topics, for example: ‘How to flip a classroom’. This programme helps getting people engaged.

More information
Please contact our project coordinators for more information:
Chantal Brans
Lisa Gommer:
Renate Klaassen: