DEVELOPING MIND AND HANDS-ON SKILLS VIA ENGINEERING GRADUATION PROJECTS WITH INDUSTRY
Before the adoption of the Bologna Declaration in Portugal (in academic year 2005/2006), Polytechnic institutions offered bi-stage courses: a 3-year degree plus a 2-year course. After the first course (3-years) students had the “bacharelato” diploma and professional title as Technical Engineers; with the superseding 2-year course they obtained the “licenciatura” diploma, legally equivalent to the 5-year courses of Universities, and the title of Engineers.
With the adoption of the Bologna agreement, some modifications and challenges arose for all courses in general and for engineering courses in particular. Major modifications for engineering courses are related to ECTS system and the mobility of students, but the big challenge was the shortening on the course duration at the bachelor level, which currently last in general 3-years (180 ECTS). As a consequence of that time reduction, while some matters and issues prevailed, some others issues are now treated in a more general approach. Although the change on learning paradigm, namely the credits for student work it is a fact that the time and approaches used to consolidate or apply knowledge cannot be used in the same way. Despite the care that was taken when adapting the courses to Bologna, employers in general looked the Bologna graduated engineers with some lack of confidence in their technical skills.
On the other hand, recent changes on laws and budgetary rules for public institutions include in its funding formula the success rate of students; the employment rate and the employment market indicators. This is even more important for public Polytechnic Institutes whose majority are small to medium size Higher Education institutions, geographically located mainly at the interior, in regions with less population, less industry and thus fewer resources.
This paper focuses on an Electrical and Telecommunication engineering graduation course (bachelor level) of a Polytechnic School. Since 2005, in order to overcome some lack on engineering skills and the consequences of the reduction on courses’ duration to apply knowledge, the authors improved and reinforced the collaboration with industry, by supervising several engineering graduation projects with direct involvement of industrial organizations. Those projects aimed to fulfill specific needs and requirements from industry, and were carried out in a non-academic environment. We used a Mind and Hands-on of Group Problem Solving approach for a better and faster engineering and personal skills development on students’. The approach, the experiences and the results are discussed in terms of pedagogic aspects, improvement of skills, industry acceptance and institutional development. The most significant experiences are reported and results are shown.
The demands of the industry in terms of quality, time accomplishment and the students’ overall performance are also discussed and the importance of R&D at engineering graduation levels is also referred. There are also benefits for the academic institution on getting some laboratory equipment as counterpart of that cooperation, on improving the students’ success and employment rate, on its ranking indicators and also for its teaching staff development. Moreover, this is also a privileged way for employers to recruit young engineers and for students to enter the employment market, with implications on institutional reputation and funding issues.