Impact of curricula on student learning: a comparison of six chemical engineering programmes in three Washington Accord countries
Despite homogenisation due to accreditation requirements, there remain significant variations in day-to-day structuring of engineering curricula. This article shows these variations, and their influence on students’ learning experiences, in three Washington Accord countries – England, South Africa, and the United States. The curricular parameters that we focus on include weekly contact hours, curricular rigidity, and the structure of the first year of the degree. Findings obtained through an analysis of undergraduate handbooks, weekly timetables of the different courses, and student interviews suggest considerable differences across the engineering programmes along these parameters, both within and across national boundaries. A high contact time, particularly in the South African programmes we studied, limits students’ capacity to self-study and participate in extra-curricular activities. In contrast, programmes that we studied in the US and England, which offer more opportunity for electives, allow students to diversify their skillsets but potentially prevent them from acquiring discipline-specific engineering competency. Finally, we noted variations in the structuring of the first year of the degree. Where a programme introduces a significant number of courses specific to chemical engineering from the first year, students tend to build an early understanding of the discipline, while limiting their capacity to change majors.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Ashish Agrawal, Johnson Carroll, Margaret Blackie, Kayleigh Rosewell, Nicole Pitterson
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