Asee peer logo

Faculty and Student Experiences of Curriculum Reform: A Case Study of the Chemical Engineering Program at the University of Cape Town

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Works in Progress I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Hilton Heydenrych University of Cape Town


Jennifer M. Case Virginia Tech

visit author page

Jennifer Case is Head and Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She holds an honorary position at the University of Cape Town. Her research on the student experience of learning, focusing mainly on science and engineering education, has been published across a range of journal articles in higher education and her recent book, Researching student learning in higher education: A social realist approach published in 2013 by Routledge. She holds an academic development post in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UCT, and teaches in the undergraduate programme there. She is a coordinating editor for the international journal Higher Education and a co-editor for the Routledge/SRHE series Research into Higher Education.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This research paper describes a study that investigates a recent process of curriculum reform in an undergraduate engineering program. Curriculum continues to hold a prominent space in discussions around engineering education, yet there are limited exemplars of full scale curriculum reform around the globe (Case, 2014). At the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the design of the new chemical engineering curriculum drew on contemporary shifts in thinking about the engineering profession (Gomes et al., 2006; IChemE, 2007), as well as a focus on widening access to the degree and coupling this with success (Heydenrych & Case, 2015). Furthermore, engaging with current deliberations on the problem-based curriculum, this design took on a problem-centred focus (Crosthwaite, Cameron, Lant, & Litster, 2006). This curriculum design demanded a far more integrated mode of course delivery than is typical in a traditional engineering curriculum. The overall process from initial deliberations through to implementation took place over nearly a decade, and the first graduating class (approximately 100 graduates) is in 2017.

The study to be reported in this paper on took place during the year in which the final year of the new curriculum for the four year program was implemented. Both faculty involved in delivering the new curriculum, and final year students who had been the first cohort through the curriculum were surveyed in an open-ended questionnaire. Analysis of the data uses standard qualitative techniques to identify prominent themes as reflected in the perceptions of these different stakeholders. The study aims to move beyond a simplistic assessment of the reform to take a close look at perceptions of the reformed curriculum, in order to offer critical insights to the field. We were particularly interested in exploring challenges experienced during the process of change, both for faculty and for students. In conclusion we suggest that in order to move beyond the rhetorical discussions of curriculum, the field of engineering education will need to take close account of the implications of curriculum reform, both in terms of positive developments, but also accounting for challenges in systems that are already stressed in terms of resources.

Case, J. M. (2014). Problematizing curriculum: Contemporary debates in engineering education. In M. Young & J. Muller (Eds.), Knowledge, expertise and the professions (pp. 143-156): Routledge. Crosthwaite, C., Cameron, I., Lant, P., & Litster, J. (2006). Balancing Curriculum Processes and Content in a Project Centred Curriculum In Pursuit of Graduate Attributes. Education for Chemical Engineers, 1(1), 39-48. Gomes, V., Barton, G., Petrie, J., Romagnoli, J., Holt, P., Abbas, A., . . . Langrish, T. (2006). Chemical engineering curriculum renewal. Education for Chemical Engineers, 1(1), 116-125. Heydenrych, H., & Case, J. M. (2015). Academic development in the mainstream: A case study in an undergraduate engineering programme in South Africa. South African Journal of Higher Education, 29(5), 179-200. IChemE. (2007). A Roadmap for 21st Century Chemical Engineering. Retrieved from

Heydenrych, H., & Case, J. M. (2018, June), Faculty and Student Experiences of Curriculum Reform: A Case Study of the Chemical Engineering Program at the University of Cape Town Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30508

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015