Learning off the job : engineers and professional education
This thesis identifies a framework of critical occasions documented by engineering students taking residential modules during the taught element of an MSc. It develops a categorisation of critical events on which future research could be built and will be of interest to practitioners, learners and academics. Building on this nomenclature the effect of important episodes on respondents' cognition and professional development is examined by applying fuzzy logic. Using a reflective interview based case study students were questioned about their background, attitudes and landmark events to investigate the classification. A focus group provided another perspective and validated early findings. The choice of a case study and use of interviews are discussed within the methodology. Previous literature on critical incidents, professional development and cognition was considered to illuminate the framework. The resulting data was analysed and patterns identified in the fieldwork chapters to catalogue the critical happenings. The developing professional identity of respondents is another area examined providing an insight into how and why such professional development occurs. Findings include: that milestones volunteered were representative of critical episodes found in previous writing and that attitudinal changes revealed within the subsets of Apprentices and Graduates appeared to converge as the course progressed. Practitioners may facilitate critical incidents and so enhance their own professional development. Learners will be interested to know that discussions with respondents highlighted occasions that resulted in increased cognition, improved confidence and presented opportunities for networking leading to professional formation. For academics the research presents ways in which students learn using critical thinking, highlighting a continuum of critical happenings on which future research could be encouraged. While offering no strong claim to generalisability the taxonomy identifies areas for further examination, which could lead to generalisability in the future.