June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
This complete research paper will describe a study that was conducted to investigate first-year engineering undergraduate student workload at a large North American university. The study was prompted by unstructured student feedback suggesting high workload, impacting their learning experience in first-year and motivated by a Faculty whose goal is to increase accessibility and inclusivity for all students. The multi-part study followed the 2016 cohort of first-year undergraduate engineering students as they completed their first-term of study. Each week in that term, a random sample of students submitted details of their weekly workload, including perceptions of difficulty, for each course quantitatively and qualitatively. These data are investigated in addition to information gathered at the beginning of term from all students and instructors of first-year engineering courses.
The analysis of expectations and realities of first-year student workload yields information that can lead to the development of a more integrated, inclusive first-year engineering curriculum. Observations suggest that workload almost doubles within the first three weeks of class and assessments (major and minor) have an amplifying effect especially as they can be inadvertently grouped-together on specific dates. Additionally, there appears to be a link between perceived difficulty and hours spent, with that link aligning better as the courses progress. Furthermore, data also suggests that the first-year design/communication course has a large spike in workload midway through the term, much larger than the increases seen in the heavy-weighted assessments in non-design courses. Qualitative responses suggest that students may feel less prepared for such courses, and consequently spend more time on them when compared to non-design courses.
A deeper look at the results suggest the emergence of several categories, some more dominant and impactful to first-year student workload and perceptions of difficulty than others. These categories, in decreasing order of prevalence include: Time, Volume, Course and Program Content, Transition, Instruction, Communication, and Expectations. From here, the observations clearly suggest that students tend to think of their time spent and volume of work completed on an activity significantly more often than references to instructions, modes of delivery, quality of instruction, and the expectations of the instructor.
The principal research questions driving this study are: - What is first-year engineering student workload? - How does student workload change throughout the term? - Is student workload affected by conceptual difficulty of course content?
The specific perspectives we are investigating to help answer this research question are: • What are the first-year undergraduate course instructors' expectations of student weekly workload? • What is the actual weekly workload for first-year undergraduate engineering students (hrs/week), and is this influenced by course difficulty and/or other factors (described both quantitatively and qualitatively)?
The research study has the potential to situate across factors for success in post-secondary education (access, persistence, engagement, performance, graduation), with implications for both the student and instructor. Data may serve to inform the development of cross-discipline engineering strategies for course and program design that addresses workload concerns. The information gathered may help promote a more inclusive and accessible first-year undergraduate experience by integrating an evidence-based understanding of workload.
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