Background or Context
The Advanced Engineering Project Management course was developed in 2014 by the University of Southern Queensland to assist qualified engineers to enhance their knowledge and skills in project management. It complements a number of other postgraduate engineering management courses offered by the University. This course was initially developed in 2014 for distance education by a team of three academics, each of whom has had considerable professional experience, and was delivered in that year to a small number of engineers with an interest in further developing their project management knowledge and skills. In 2015, it has been offered through both on-campus and distance education to a wider student group, including engineering technologists studying programs like the Master of Engineering Science to qualify as professional engineers, by both on-campus and distance education, with an enrolment of over 80 students. Its development and delivery, while successful, have provided a number of challenges and resulted in the learning of valuable lessons.
Purpose or Goal
The purpose of this study is to discuss the challenges met in developing and delivering this course, how they were overcome, and the lessons learnt from this process. While the course is delivered by traditional approaches like lectures and tutorials, it has been underpinned by student focused principles like reflective learning, deep learning and assessment that aims to resemble industry practice as authentically as possible and uses two assignments that build on each other. In these assignments, students are given a set of project management issues to apply to a project (or program of projects in the case of the second assignment) that they nominate in accordance with a set of parameters in the assignment question, and are then asked to analyse and address the issues and write a report to senior management on the resulting plan to achieve desired objectives. The assignments are designed to mirror practice as much as possible and provide a degree of student centred learning. This approach, and the way in which it aids student development, are discussed.
The study outlines development and delivery of the course, both initially to a small distance education cohort in 2014 and to a much larger student cohort in 2015, from the point of view of its role in student development. Insight is provided into the approach used by the development team to formulate, write, review and initially deliver quality course material to a small group of learners in a quite short time period. The delivery of the course in each of the two years of offer is compared and contrasted. A number of issues, such as ensuring that course material has been of an advanced nature and engaging, that there has been a focus on reflective learning practices and deep learning, and ensuring that assessment has been as authentic as possible, are discussed. The main issue in the initial 2014 delivery of the course, to a small group of engineers with some experience in project management, was ensuring the development of course material kept pace with its delivery. In the 2015 delivery, to a much larger cohort of both on-campus and distance education students, the main issue has been minimal knowledge by a number of students of basic project management, which it was previously assumed that all students in the course would possess. As a result, further changes to this course are planned for its 2016 delivery.
Key outcomes of this study include:
1. A discussion about the course development process, the issues in this process and how it can be improved.
2. The extent to which the course has involved good educational principles like reflective practice, a focus on the student, authentic assessment and continual improvement.
3. The extent to which the course material and its assessment have been received by learners, and in particular learners with minimal knowledge of basic project management principles.
4. Modifications to the course topics and material as a result of learner feedback and experiences of the staff delivering it.
While the development and delivery of this course has been quite successful, its implementation has resulted in a number of learnings.
The main learning from this study is the importance of developing sound course material and assessment that not only meets student needs at the time of development, but is flexible enough to adapt to changing student backgrounds and needs over time.
Implications arising from the development and delivery of the course include the:
1. importance of clarity about course objectives and good constructive alignment in the course development process
2. desirability to have good knowledge of existing and potential future learner skills and their requirements in developing and delivering new courses
3. application of good teaching principles in developing and delivering courses in engineering management
4. need to have a strong focus on continual review to result in a quality product
5. desirability of building flexibility into courses to accommodate emerging issues and developing circumstances.
It is concluded that the learnings from this study will aid the development of future postgraduate engineering management courses through better identifying and assessing the challenges and issues in their development, delivery and revision, from the point of view of good teaching practice.