Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 6, No. 2 (2009)

Transitions To First Year Engineering – Diversity As An Asset

Lyn M Brodie, USQ
Mark A Porter, USQ


The tertiary education sector and the engineering profession are facing numerous challenges to adequately educate professionals to meet the future needs of society. Higher education institutions rely heavily on the school system to direct students into programs with appropriate prerequisite studies for their chosen career. However schools are now offering a greater breadth in education at the expense of depth in specific areas. They are now catering for alternative student destinations by offering work based and trade-oriented programs. Traditional subjects required for engineering such as physics and high level math are suffering from falling numbers. Universities are struggling with the challenge of graduating students with a diverse educational background. Multiple entry paths to formal higher education, many of which find alternatives to high school results for entry, compound this difficulty. Diversity in the classroom, particularly in the entry level courses has always been viewed as a “difficulty” by academics. This paper will argue that the careful integration of Problem Based Learning (PBL) into the curriculum can turn the disadvantage of diversity into an advantage. It can assist in meeting many of the desired graduate attributes such as teamwork, effective communication and problem solving. It can help ensure that students with diverse educational backgrounds have a reasonable chance of success and that those students with a more ‘traditional’ education background are not ‘bored’ by covering basic concepts again. Problem based learning, cooperative based learning, and collaborative based learning all offer the possibility of using student diversity to advantage.

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