ENHANCING COMPETENCES IN ENGINEERING STUDIES THROUGH CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT ACTIONS
Higher Education Institutions play a crucial role in training future generations of professionals. In order to fill in the gap between employer desired and student acquired knowledge and competences universities gradually increased their focus on the latter. Competence based teaching and learning, student-centered learning, managing diversity and service orientation are trends in action in European HEIs.
It is in this context that we aim to study competence evaluation and development strategies employed at a university, focusing especially on student coursing their last year of studies, an aspect making them more sensitive since their closeness to facing the labor market. Competences development and training can take various forms and approaches in higher education. Both the individual and the institution can deploy effort to establish improvement mechanisms.
The aims of this analysis are to answer five main questions:
1) What are the current competence strengths and weaknesses perceived by students?
2) What is their subjective perception about the topic, the tool and the context?
3) How competence strengths and weaknesses perceived by students evolved during their student career (first course to last course)?
4) What improvement actions have been designed and integrated by teachers/educators to strengthen students’ perceived competences?
5) What are the possible improvement actions imagined by students?
In order to conduct the empirical validation, a competence evaluation procedure is followed using an Internet-based tool (Kantola et al. 2005, 2011). Original from the Tampere University of Technology (Finland), the instrument is specifically designed for the project management work role. It integrates 30 competences with an important relevance and match both for the International Project Management Association and for the University of Girona (Spain). The tool is used in an academic setting and it generates individual and group reports with different levels of aggregation, namely 30 detailed competences, 6 main groups of competences (self-knowledge, self-control, cognitive ability, motivation, empathy and social skills), further grouped in two main categories, namely personal and social competences.
Participant students conducted the self-evaluation during October 2014. They were coursing engineering studies and most of them were involved in their 4th and final year of studies at the University of Girona (Spain). A contrast group of students is used to capture the situation in the academic year 2011/2012. The preliminary results show that students currently detect significant weaknesses in the linguistic competence and stress tolerance, while main strengths are commitment and developing others. Corrective actions and initiatives taken by educators are also described and linked to the previous results. Being a relatively new issue subjective perception of students is valued and the results show relatively high levels of agreement with almost all issued raised: the importance of competence development, the usefulness of the tool used, own willingness to improve, among others. Finally, the improvement actions proposed by students are showed as a measure of their own proactivity. The authors believe that the detailed results have significant implications for: students, teachers and university management.