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Current projects

Please find below an outline of projects currently being undertaken by the Engineering Education Research Group.

For further details about any of these projects please contact Dr Robin Clark, r.p.clark@aston.ac.uk, or Dr Jane Andrews, j.e.andrews@aston.ac.uk

  • Evaluation of Project Based Learning (more specifically CDIO]

In this project we have acted as a ‘fly on the wall’. Taking the role of ‘critical friend’ we have closely following the CDIO programme has it has been rolled out across the School recording staff and students perceptions as the programme has progressed.

Early research findings have indicated that the ‘hands on’ nature of CDIO is equipping Aston students with the high level, transferable skills required of today’s engineers. Furthermore, the opportunity for students to link theory to practice means that the main issues are taught in a way that brings theory to life.

Two conference papers about our work can be found by clicking on the following links: CDIO-1 and CDIO-2

  • Staff training for innovative learning and teaching

Looking at how staff are prepared for innovative teaching in engineering entails working closely with key staff to identify individual and group training needs. Working with staff are developing several innovative learning and teaching approaches aimed specifically at improving engineering education. Such approaches are being continually evaluated, reviewed and improved.

A paper outlining one of the Workshops we have conducted in this area can be found by following this link: Building Bridges for Future Sustainability? Breaching the research-teaching nexus in Engineering Education

  • The importance of relationships, variety and synergy in engineering education

Building on pedagogical theory and practical learning and teaching experiences, a new pedagogical approach to learning and teaching has been developed. Aimed at promoting Scholarship within Engineering Education and beyond this approach comprises three core concepts, ‘relationships’, variety’ and ‘synergy’. Each of these concepts are taken account of at each stage of the learning process and embedded into the teaching process. The success of the approach has been critically analysed and a journal article submitted to a leading engineering education publication.

Relationships have been identified as key to the student experience. Such relationships include between teachers and learners, students and their peers, and students and other members of staff. The study has shown how important it is that students build good relationships and in doing so acquire a sense of ‘belonging’.

Variety relates to the use of a range of different learning and teaching approaches in engineering education. Such approaches included work-based learning, formal lectures, field visits, laboratory work, tutorials and electronic learning. Our research has shown that through the use of a variety of different learning approaches, students are kept engaged and the learning ‘fresh’.

Synergy involves aligning the module and programme outcomes to the wider needs and expectations of all the relevant stakeholders including employers, academics, professional bodies and students. Our research has shown that by making learning ‘real’ and by providing realistic and grounded learning objectives, engineering education at Aston provides work-ready graduates able to fulfil the needs of future employers.

Two working papers showing our work to date in this area can be found by clicking the following links: Bringing Engineering Education to Life – An Empirical Approach and Relationships, Variety & Synergy: Promoting Scholarship in Engineering Education

  • Bringing business and engineering together

Our research in this area is looking at the best way of bringing business and engineering together so as to inform the curriculum. The aim of this study is to develop a ‘best practice’ toolkit that can be used in the future by all stakeholders to develop and build relationships for the betterment of society.

  • Attributes of the graduate engineers of the future

As part of the study we have interviewed several recent graduates in an attempt to determine the skills they are required to possess when entering the workplace. The findings of this are being fed back into engineering education to enable the university to equip students with the skills and competencies they will need upon graduation.

  • Introducing engineering at primary school level

Our work in this area involves working closely with several of the country’s leading primary level engineering education providers. We believe that if society is going to avoid future shortages of engineers, it is important to ignite children’s engineering imaginations at an early age. Two research papers that we have written about our work in this area can be found by clicking the following links:

Today’s pupils, tomorrow’s engineers! Pedagogy and policy: a UK perspective
Researching primary engineering education: UK perspectives, an exploratory study
  • Outreach to schools – what works and why?

Closely linked to our engineering at primary school level project, we are involved in evaluating outreach in schools. Looking closely at the outreach work that universities conduct in schools, we are in the process of identifying ‘what works’, ‘how it works’, and ‘why it works’. It is intended that the findings of this project will enable us to inform future outreach practice so that universities are able to make a more worthwhile contribution to schools.

  • Student perceptions of engineering

Over the past three years we have conducted several surveys of our own students – finding out what they think about engineering and engineering education. The finding from this work is being continually fed back to academic and support staff and used to inform and improve learning and teaching.

A conference paper discussing out work in this area can be found at: BalancingExpectations in Engineering Education: Enhancing Student Experiencesthrough Empirical Research - A Comparative Analysis

  • Peer mentoring at transition

We have conducted a large study looking at the vital role played by peer mentoring in helping new students make the transition from school or further education into university. The findings of this project reinforce other work which suggests that new students need to feel a sense of ‘belonging’ and that relationships are key to this. The final project report and other outputs can be found by clicking on the following links: Project Report, Institutional Manual & Recruitment Toolkit and Evaluation Toolkit.

A conference paper showing our findings can be found by following this link: Tackling Transition: Peer mentoring as a route to student success: The Findings of a Multi-Case Study Research Project

You may also read our related paper entitled Peer Mentoring: The Route to Retention & Success in Higher Education? 

On the 3rd November 2011 the Engineering Education Research Group hosted a seminar disseminating our findings in this area at Aston University. Entitled “Tackling Transition: Peer mentoring as a route to student success: The Findings of a Multi-Case Study Research Project” the seminar was sponsored by the HEA. The presentations and other documents from the seminar can be found by clicking on this link: HEA-Outputs.

  • Relationships between industry and academia – what are the characteristics for success?

Our work in this area involves critiquing the relationships between industry and academia. By critically evaluating how relationships between industry and academia are developed and maintained we are aiming to produce useful and usable information which will assist industry and academic build successful and fruitful collaborations.

  • Work based learning

Looking at various aspects of work-based learning in industry and academia, this study involves critiquing all aspects of work-based learning including assessment and evaluation, aligning academic and employment needs, and meeting professional body requirements. Currently focusing on professional education in engineering our research is being used to continually evaluate and improve the curriculum.

Follow this link for a conference paper outlining our work in this area: A Matter of Professionalism? Reflection & Reflexivity in Continuing Engineering Education & Practice

Employable Graduates; Exploitable Research