IMPROVING THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE OF INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING AND MANAGEMENT STUDENTS: THE USE OF ASSIGNMENTS IN QUALITY MANAGEMENT COURSES
Industrial engineers are specifically trained to be specialists in productivity, reduction of waste and quality improvement, in a large range of organisational settings (e.g. manufacturing, distribution, service providers, healthcare and education). In fact, according to the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE, 2019) “Industrial and systems engineering is concerned with the design, improvement and installation of integrated systems of people, materials, information, equipment and energy.”
Most university study programs in this area include courses on Quality Management (QM) as is the case of the Integrated Master in Industrial Engineering and Management (IEM) offered at the University of Aveiro (UA), which includes two. But what should these courses be about and how to teach them in a way that students learning experience is indeed relevant for their training as industrial engineers?
The IEM/UA Quality Management courses have been designed with an ultimate objective of providing students with skills that will enable them to analyse, in a critical and constructive perspective, the principles, methodologies, techniques and guidelines underlying the QM field, which are the basis for QM implementation in organizations. Therefore, the courses were designed to present to the students the more relevant concepts of QM such as an overview of QM development over the XX and early XXI century, a set of different quality tools and methodologies (the seven basic tools, statistical process control, design of experiments and 6 sigma), as well as the Portuguese quality system.
The teaching methodologies adopted include the illustration in classes of the different themes with practical examples applied to the students’ area of interest. Two to three assignments are proposed to students in each one of the courses, where they can apply the discussed tools, methodologies or guidelines to organisational contexts or observe their application. The goal behind this approach is to give students the opportunity to effectively see how QM can be applied in real life and the benefits coming out from such application.
In this paper, it is intended to present the main challenges faced when trying to offer students a successful learning experience. It is considered that the assignments proposed to students are an effective way of promoting their involvement with the courses, helping them to have a real sense of how and why QM should be practiced in organisations. Some examples of assignments delivered by students throughout the last ten years (covering the topics of the 7 Quality Basic Tools, Processes Approach and Design of Experiments) to illustrate the effectiveness of this approach and to show that they significantly contribute to improving students’ learning experience in QM courses.
Finally, the work explores the connection between students’ experiences in the Quality Management area and their approach to Industrial Engineering and Management as a whole, through the analysis of the relationships with other subjects addressed in the IEM program, taking into account their ultimate objective: improvement of the world that surround us.