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Massive Changes for Undergrads

Mar 21 2007 19:39
Ton Van den bremer
Livic talks to Prof Bommer about the sweeping changes to be made to the undergraduate course.
Prof. Julian Bommer, Director of Undergraduate Studies, who is the chief architect of the overhaul

In the light of national and international competition in civil engineering education, the Department is currently finalising the layout of a new civil engineering degree that will replace the current Civil Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering course from 2008 onwards. ?Self-awareness?, ?maturity?, ?open-mindedness? and an ?enquiring attitude? characterise the ?well-rounded professional? that the new degree will aim to deliver. Professor Julian Bommer, director of undergraduate studies and coordinator of the team of ten senior members of academic staff that has been working on the degree review for two years, reveals the details to Livic.

Firstly, the structure and outline of the degree will see fundamental changes. Although a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering will no longer be offered and will be replaced by a degree in Civil Engineering only, environmental engineering will be a more integral part of the degree with compulsory modules in the subject from the first year onwards. Computational analysis comprising amongst other things finite element and finite difference analysis will be taught in both the first, second and third year. More remarkable is that management and economics will be introduced as compulsory modules much earlier in the degree. Lecturers from the Tanaka Business School will provide these modules.

In the army of civil engineers we are not soldiers, but elite troops
Prof Bommer

The implications for the methods of undergraduate teaching will be more radical. Fortnightly Creative Design sessions will be replaced by Creative Design weeks at the end of each term. The new creative design will involve less ?arm waving? and will focus on the ?integration and application? of the different aspects of civil engineering according to Professor Bommer. During these design weeks, knowledge from different subjects will be applied with lecturers from the different sections of the department being responsible for parts of the course. Also, the current pass marks, described by Prof Bommer as ?derisory?, will see changes as he adds everything below 50 % is ?not dignified?.

For those students entering from 2008 onwards the Constructionarium will take place in the second year of study. This signifies another aspect of the new degree course, which is putting more faith in students? abilities. At the outset of the degree course review, a profile was drawn up of the qualities, skills and knowledge of the graduates that the new degree would aim to deliver. ?Self-awareness?, ?maturity?, ?open-mindedness? and an ?enquiring attitude? allegedly characterise the ?well-rounded professional? that will be educated at Skempton from 2008 onwards.

One of the ways to achieve these objectives is giving the students more time to study and work on projects by reducing the coursework load. Professor Bommer admits that the current levels of coursework are too high and that they place too great a strain on both students and staff. Hence, he has drawn up a chart that should help lecturers to critically examine the added value of the coursework they set (see picture). In certain cases such an examination is truly needed, emphasises Professor Bommer. Especially in later years, there will be less contact time and less coursework giving the students more time to work on projects. With fourth year exams taking place in January in the new setup, a substantial period will be available for the final year project. The aim is to make the final year project a genuine intellectual achievement rather than something that has to be rushed through in five weeks.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that in the ?army of civil engineers? we are not ?soldiers?, but ?elite troops?. As Professor Bommer points out, the social, economic and political side of civil engineering projects is not highlighted enough in the current course; ?we are not technicians?. Good communication skills and an appreciation of the economics of civil engineering projects are fundamental. Risk management, construction practice, management and law, the natural environment and society, economics and professional ethics are the keywords of the new degree course. Measures to be taken are bringing in more people from industry, but also making more use of the experience of members of academic staff of which many are involved as consultants in exciting civil engineering projects around the world. Underlying these reforms is also a desire to stop students from choosing a job in the City, about which Prof Bommer is very concerned. He admits that every student that goes into the City signifies ?our failure? to keep him or her interested enough in civil engineering.

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Discussion about “Massive Changes for Undergrads”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
1. Nick   
Mar 22 2007 23:35

At last, the current state of affairs with the civil degree feels like it is just meeting student needs - hopefully this will make us into edgy competitive engineers, instead of just walking calculators - which is why we usually get employed.

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