A practice based learning environment for engineering students : acquiring competencies for working on advanced manufacturing engineering
In this thesis the author describes the design and operation of a learning environment aimed at imparting technical, technological and managerial knowledge, developing understanding of the underlying issues and enhancing team work skills for an advanced technology future. He offers an analysis of learning, education and training and compares group work with individual tasks, presents a major case study and illustrates the features which distinguish the approach from role play, simulation and experiential learning. When staff at Brunel University were faced with the problem of teaching Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) to engineering students on thin sandwich type undergraduate degree programmes the writer suggested the use of an approach he would later describe as 'practice based learning' or 'real life simulation'. The fourth year course in CIM is designed as a double option for the complementary undergraduate courses, Brunel Manufacturing Engineering (BME) and Special Engineering Programmes (SEP). It is an extension of the Manufacturing Design and Practice course in years one to three of the BME course and of the Design strand on SEP, both of which restrict students' work to the use of individual machine tools and stand alone computing facilities. A wide range of teaching methods is used on the CIM course, including lectures by course staff, presentations by experts and, as the major element, a large group project involving all the students on the course, organised in a management matrix, coordinated by the students and supported by the staff acting as experts. The students also undertake assignment work alongside the technical tasks, to focus their thinking and to improve written communication skills. While the course described cannot replace more than a small proportion of the more conventional lecture, laboratory and tutorial teaching on an engineering programme, it provides a setting where students can experiment and learn about their own strengths and weaknesses in a realistic situation and in the context of teamwork. It also offers a space where they can make quite serious mistakes without direct consequences to their careers. The experience of seven years leads the author to believe that advanced manufacturing technologies and the associated management techniques should be taught in a project based environment with clear and real targets and realistic constraints, offering students challenges to which they can only rise through close and creative team work. The management of task execution must be left largely in the students' own hands. A high level of "consultant" type support is essential though, allied to an assessment scheme which promises and ensures fair treatment of the individual. The different parts of the thesis will be relevant to readers depending on their interest and background. Chapter 1 sets the scene and outlines the approach taken. Following this broad outline of the scope of the dissertation the author places Computer Integrated Manufacturing in a wider context in chapter 2, by providing an introduction to the underlying issues of computer integration and human factors. He puts forward a case for new approaches to the education and training of engineers and managers who will be working in Computer Integrated Manufacturing and Advanced Manufacturing Environments in general. Chapter 3 is devoted to the management of projects while chapter 4 is used to question the role of the engineer. Chapters 5 and 6 provide an introduction to theories of knowledge, teaching, learning and motivation. Chapters 7 and 8 are devoted to particular aspects of engineering education, while chapter 9 reviews the approach used at Brunel University. The topical issues of competence and its relevance to engineering education is discussed in chapter 10, leading into chapters 11 and 12 which deal with aspects of the CIM course. Chapters 13 and 14 are devoted to case-studies and particular tools. The key question of assessment of a practice oriented and team based course is addressed in chapter 15, followed by an evaluation of the CIM process and its application to engineering education of a full time nature which is included in chapters 17 and 18.