June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
26.1512.1 - 26.1512.15
Curricular Choice Opportunities for Engineering vs. Non-Engineering MajorsThis study explores the amount of curricular choice undergraduate engineering studentsencounter in working towards an engineering degree as compared to their non-engineering peerson campus. The course choices students have the autonomy to make while earning an ABET-accredited engineering degree in various disciplines are compared to those of students earning adegree in Physics, Chemistry, Math, Economics, or Psychology. “Choice Values” for degreeprograms at five regionally-diverse universities are presented, including both public and privateinstitutions, a large research university, a small liberal arts college, and a HBCU.A Choice Value is a quantified representation of the aggregate curricular choice opportunity for agiven degree program, and is a function of total course choice opportunities, the proportion ofdegree credit hours that provide curricular choice, and the number of courses from whichstudents can choose. Choice Values were determined using the published curriculum in theuniversity catalogs, as well as counts for the number of individual course options for each choiceopportunity. Examples of choice opportunities within engineering degree programs includemenus of course options, technical electives, humanities and social science electives, and freeelectives.Findings of the differentially limited curricular choices available to engineering students acrossall five universities and degrees studied are revealed. In short, engineering students were foundto have an average of over 15 times less curricular choice than their non-engineering peers.Within institutions, the amount of curricular choice engineering students get was ratherconsistent; the variability in Choice Values between different ABET-accredited engineeringmajors was typically within a factor of 2. However, Choice Values for Mechanical Engineeringdegrees varied by a factor of 33 between institutions, while Choice Values for Civil Engineeringdegrees varied by a factor of 50−indicating that choice within engineering degrees variessignificantly between different institutions.The comparatively dismal amount of course choice available to students pursuing an engineeringdegree leads to the question of if, and how, degree programs might provide more course choiceopportunities, and if doing so could positively impact broadening participation in engineeringenrollments and improve graduation rates. The limited course choice opportunities engineeringstudents encounter reflects the notoriously restrictive and lock-step nature of many engineeringdegree programs, and may be a contributor to the numerous, persistent access and retentionchallenges. Education environments that support autonomy have been shown to foster self-motivation, increased engagement, higher-quality learning, and personal well-being—alloutcomes that could positively impact access and retention. Increasing course choiceopportunities for students seeking an engineering degree may encourage students to meet theirinnate psychological need for autonomy within the context of an engineering education, andcould thus benefit educational and program outcomes.The design of a new (2013), multidisciplinary engineering degree program that provides studentswith significant course choice opportunities via a flexible and customizable curriculum ispresented.
Forbes, M. H., & Bielefeldt, A. R., & Sullivan, J. F. (2015, June), The Choice Opportunity Disparity: Exploring Curricular Choice Opportunities for Engineering vs. Non-Engineering Majors Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24850
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