Academic staff's responses to educational changes in a School of Engineering in a university in Singapore
There is a need to research the processes of educational change in Singapore as rapid changes can result in complex problems. This is a study on academic staffs responses to an educational change in an engineering School in a Singapore University. The theoretical framework of this study is based on Etzioni and Lehman's (1980) exposition that organizational factors are important in studying educational change and Blenkin's et. at. (1992) theory of beliefs about change. Perspectives of change in Singapore, particularly the academics', were analyzed, using Blenkin's et. al. (1992) description of the different attitudes towards change. Schon's (1971) model of dissemination of change was also used in the examination of how this change was implemented. Previously, students undertook one year of common engineering curriculum when they enrolled in a Bachelor of Engineering program in this University. This has, however, been expanded to a two-year common engineering program. This study examines the academic staff s responses to a change from one year to two years common engineering in a Bachelor of Engineering program. Along with this change is an attempt to broaden the engineering curriculum of the Bachelor program. This study investigates the organizational factors that influence the academics' responses to the curriculum change, and how they implemented the planned change in their teaching practices. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 10% of the academic staff in the Engineering School in this University. The interviewees concurred on the points that more channels should be provided for them to communicate their views on the curricular issues in the University, and that top-down decisions should be incorporated with bottom-up input. In addition, focus group discussions were carried out with 5% of the student population enrolled in the two- year common engineering program. Documentary analysis was also carried out in this study. A number of the University's publications on.the rationale of this change as well as newspaper articles were analyzed. This study discovers that more attention should be paid to students' learning, particularly in developing attitudes and skills that will help them adapt to a knowledge-based economy and rapid economic developments. In general, the academics in the present study held an attitude of change that is reflective of Blenkin's et. al. (1992) description, that change is inevitable, and survival entails adaptation to this change. They felt, however, that educational changes were too sporadic and frequent, consisting of reactions to external changes, particular in the area of economic changes. They desired a greater and deeper involvement in decisions on curriculum changes so that they could contribute their professional and pedagogical viewpoints. This study shows, therefore, the importance of examining the factors that influence academics to change and the stages they go through. It also shows the need to involve academics at every stage of a curriculum change.