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Author ORCID Identifier

0000-0002-9619-5134

Abstract

Engineers play a central role in addressing the challenges which face society. However, the influence of globalisation, disruptive technological change and complex social problems will greatly affect the way engineers work in the future. As a result, there have been calls to embrace transformational change in engineering education, yet the literature reveals that many reform efforts have fallen short. Industry and society will therefore continue to look to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to better prepare engineering graduates with the new skills needed to face the challenges of the future. Notwithstanding the critical and valued role that technical engineering subjects have within an engineering programme, the literature suggests that there is a need for a greater focus on the development of a range of skills.

The primary aim of this study is to determine how third year students in our Structural Engineering undergraduate degree programme perceive their skills development through the recording of their reflections in an ePortfolio. This will allow us to identify areas where students feel less confident and target those for future development.

The first step was to identify what skills our students should be competent in upon graduating. The skills identification was a three-pronged approach as follows and is described in detail in [1]:

- A review of skills required by professional bodies

- A review of skills required by industry

- Input from students into how they perceive these skills including a feedback session with 3rd year Structural Engineering students to get a grasp of their understanding of the skills identified

A review of the most recent relevant literature alongside chartership requirements of the Institution of Structural Engineers [2] and Engineers Ireland [3], as well as consideration of three seminal consultation and analysis reports on the future skills in the sector [4]–[6], led to the identification of 7 skill clusters. These are the traditional, though evolving skills related to communication, technical ability, management and engineering practice, as well as emerging skills related to sustainability, technology and digitisation and society. It is accepted however that there may be different conceptions of each term, therefore, the presented research describes the co-creation of definitions for each of these skills with undergraduate structural engineering students [1]. Focus groups were used to engage students in a conversation around the meaning and importance of each skill resulting in specific action orientated definitions for each skill. These definitions were then be used in the next phases of the project which engage the same students in a reflective ePortfolio exercise and structural engineering educators in a review of the programme outcomes in relation to such skills.

Portfolios are generally used as way to record a learner’s development, i.e. their knowledge, skills and competences. Portfolios also serve as a stimulus to encourage students to reflect on their performance to enable them to self-assess, both key aspects of developing into life-long learners [7]. The current growth in availability of technologies for learning provides an opportunity for students to easily record evidence and artefacts which reflect their learning in an accessible manner. Thus ePortfolios serve as both a tool to encourage reflection and self-assessment in addition to a repository of evidence on development of competences and skills.

A number of ePortfolio options were discussed in this project. As this was a pilot study, it was decided to use the ePortfolio available in Brightspace which is the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) we currently use in TU Dublin City Campus. Students are already familiar with this VLE and we felt it would be a good way for the students to save their reflections. The ePortfolio can link to the students’ modules, and may be shared with staff whilst not publicly available.

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