A widely accepted tenet in academia is that its practitioners are actively involved in teaching, professional practice and research. This broad spectrum of "expertise" should assist academics to provide a broad range of education options to students. This educational expertise can simultaneously be made available to practicing professionals in the form of continuing education programs. This synergism provides a cost-effective and flexible method of offering integrated courses to both students and professionals. If such an approach is to be successful however, the academic must be dedicated, have good management skills and have access to industry organisations that are able to provide direct or indirect funding support. The paper explores the use of integrated classes for undergraduates, postgraduates and professionals in the School of Civil Engineering at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. It is concluded that such an approach can provide a flexible and cost-effective service to both students and professionals if industry and university management is supportive of academics and teaching programs.
Supporting material and presenters are garnered from industry bodies, government departments, consultants and academia. Industry bodies that have supported the programs include the Concrete Masonry Association of Australia, Australian Asphalt Pavement Association, the Cement and Concrete Association of Australia, Department of Main Roads, and the Timber Research and Development Council. Academics are drawn from both national and international universities linked with the School. The School utilises this pool of knowledge and expertise to provide quality training programs for students and the profession.
The range of units offered has been large and covers the full spectrum of civil engineering infrastructure including; transport engineering, geotechnical engineering, design maintenance and construction, water supply, and waste management. A total of 18 advanced units have been offered to undergraduates and a further 18 units offered at the postgraduate level, which are able to build on the specialist undergraduate units. The most specialised are the continuing education courses utilised by professionals, postgraduates and undergraduates. A summary of some of the courses offered is shown in Table 1. The courses have been developed and refined over a number of years and one of the courses "Concrete Construction" has now been running for over 10 years. Although thousands of professional engineers have availed themselves of the School's expertise over the last decade, the School will likely expand these activities to continue to meet the needs of its clients.
|Alt. of Pavement Design
Concrete Training Course
Limit State Steel Design
Safety of Structures
Compaction in Roads
NRMCA Training Course
Finite Element Methods
Protection of Structural Steel
BCC/QUT Traffic Engg.
Cement Treated Pavements
Quality in Compaction
PMCAA Training Course
|Eng. Management and Admin.
Municipal Eng. and Planning
Const. Manag. and Economy
Municipal Law and Regulations
Road and Traffic Engineering
Advanced Traffic Engineering
Urban Transportation Planning
Water Quality Engineering
Public Health Eng. Practice
Advanced Treatment Processes
Environ. Law and Assessment
Municipal Engineering Practice
Transport Engineering 1
Transport Engineering 2
Geotech. Engineering 2
Geotech. Engineering 3
Advanced Struct. Design
Advance Const. Methods
Proj Manag. & Admin.
Hydraulic Engineering 3
Environ. Impact Studies
The School's continuing education program has been designed for the continuing professional development of engineers in the form of refresher courses or additional education. As defined by Ackermans , the refresher type course is where established undergraduate curriculum is re-taught with the inclusion of the latest technologies. The additional education type course introduces topics which may never had been taught in the undergraduate programs studied by some professional engineers.
The refresher course is suitable for the older graduates of the School who enroll to gain the same state of the art information as undergraduates (who may be building on more recent knowledge). The additional education concept applies to graduates from other institutions where the continuing education topic was never included in the undergraduate program, either because the topic was considered irrelevant or did not previously exist.
Typically the combined classes of undergraduate students, technologists and professionals contain a broad range of people with a vast spectrum of education and experience. For the undergraduate, the work is an extension of earlier work. For a recent graduate, the lectures represent a refresher course, and for the older engineer the work may be entirely new, conceptually difficult and hard to master. The management and teaching of such a diverse group is a challenging task..
Similarly the University of Tasmania's goals include to "provide lifelong learning opportunities" and to "make important distinctive and excellent contributions to the community, industry, government and scholarly communities" (University of Tasmania 2000).
Universities thus provide an indirect impetus to academics to mount continuing education courses, via Faculty and School strategic plans and missions statements, which have been formulated to meet the Universities' aims. Usually financial benefits also accrue to the university from levies on fees paid by the professionals undertaking the continuing education.
If undergraduate engineers are exposed to the benefits of certain products, design procedures or methodologies, they are likely to continue such practices in their ensuing careers. Practicing professionals may have reservations about certain technologies or concepts overcome by their participation in good courses. Thus industry organisations should find it cost effective to fund courses (partially or fully) which combine undergraduate and professional education. The fees paid by the professionals taking the course to increase their knowledge or simply to meet the professional development requirements of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, will help offset the costs of mounting the course.
A good course developed with the assistance of an industry organisation may be adopted for further use outside a university. The course may be used for the training of industry personnel, or as short courses targeting specific groups of local professionals. Often the industry groups will provide prizes for outstanding results achieved by participating students, which is independent of other support. Such prizes can serve as enticements for extra dedication and performance in that unit area. Examples of this approach in the School are 2 prizes of $500 in the masonry design elective, provided by the Concrete Masonry Association, and 3 prizes of $500 in the flexible pavements area provided by the Australian Asphalt Pavement Association (AAPA).
An association with such an industry organisation may be extended beyond the continuing education aspects to form a synergism. The School has benefited through its association with AAPA by being assisted with the purchase of expensive, sophisticated testing equipment and some support in its applied research program in the area of bitumen and asphalt materials. AAPA was instrumental in forming the Australasian Pavement Studies and Research Centre (APSARC) in partnership with the national road association body, AUSTROADS. QUT became a member of the APSARC advisory group due to its involvement with AAPA in its continuing education program.
As far back as 1991 the School of Civil Engineering and AAPA held informal discussions concerning the possibility of the School running some form of flexible pavement engineering unit in its Bachelor of Engineering course. AAPA saw the proposed unit as the initial stage in the development of the postgraduate qualifications, Master of Technology and Master of Engineering in Pavement Engineering under the management of APSRAC in partnership with Deakin University. In 1992, AAPA funded the School to develop the new unit with the provision that it be made available to both practising engineers and students. This meant that the unit had to be offered as both a final year elective and as a continuing education program. The unit "Pavement Design and Rehabilitation" was developed between AAPA and School staff and offered for the first time in second semester 1993 (July - November). AAPA funds allowed design of a course brochure and payment of external lecturers. A small, nominal fee was paid to academic staff and the surplus funds held over to support the course over the following years. This proved to be the start of a drive by AAPA, with support form AUSTROADS, to position itself in the formal education sector (Farrelly 1994).
Assessment was via the well-established route of in-class tutorials, design assignments and an informal in-house examination at the end of semester for all participants. Students sat the unit exam as part of their normal examination process and were graded in parallel with other elective units. The professional engineers received a certificate, which also indicated the grade achieved in the unit, based on overall performance. This grading was intended to assist those professionals who intended to undertake further study in the area.
One benefit of combined courses held within the School is that if required, they can be carried out over a period of time (up to 12-14 weeks) which promotes gradual and deeper assimilation of knowledge. The on-campus courses allow access to modern testing facilities and also assist good staff-student interaction, which can promote learning but which is missing from many of the correspondence courses marketed and provided by the Institution. These types of courses for professional engineers are disappearing as student-student and student-staff interaction becomes simplified via distance education courses due to wider acceptance and use of electronic communication techniques.
SEC600 Introduction to Pavements
SEC601 Pavement Design
SEC602 Pavement Construction
SEC603 Pavement Wearing Surfaces
SEC604 Asphalt Mix Design
SEC605 Pavement Maintenance and Rehabilitation
SEC606 Industrial and Heavy Duty Pavements
SEC607 Pavement Management
SEC608 In Situ Stabilisation
SEC609 Asset Management (in preparation)
Master of Technology (Pavements) students must complete 4 of the above units plus 2 other units from School of Engineering and Technology at Deakin, while Master of Engineering (Pavements) students must complete 8 specialist units plus 4 units from the School of Engineering and Technology at Deakin.
The question of "why bother" must then be asked, what are the rewards for academics. There seems little reward to academics compared with the input required to mount a good course. Fortunately rewards do exist, albeit marginal. For the academic it is being able to teach in an area for which he or she has a great affinity or research interest. There is also the possibility that promotion prospects may be enhanced. The rewards for the students are more options for study, while professionals gain access to state of the art knowledge. Any actual financial reward for the academic will usually be quite marginal. As facilitators, academics should be concerned with educational innovation and creativity, particularly if there is a way in which abstract academic knowledge can be translated into practical applications.
The School has adopted an interactive model for development of its staff  and has highlighted that service to the profession assists the academic to become a "rounded engineer" as he or she is encouraged to become involved with real world engineering problems and their solutions. Research, teaching, and consulting constantly reinforce and interact with each other until the boundaries become blurred as shown in Figure1.
Figure 1: A fully integrated university and industry program
Professionals should be able to update their knowledge in courses, as academics would normally be airing their "secret arts", while they demonstrate their standing as good researchers. The professional development guidelines of the IEAust are also met. An unusual benefit is that the professionals are exposed, on an informal basis, to young undergraduate engineers who are poised on the brink of their careers. Some professionals are taken aback by the candour and openness of today's undergraduates.
Associations look for value for money and will only continue to support the courses as long as their members see positive results in the performance of their existing staff and what they see as better new graduates. Some academics believe they can be held to be more responsible and accountable for the quality of such combined courses than for normal undergraduate units. There is a strong pressure within all industries for accountability. Partnerships such as the models in place allow for strong accountability for both the industry and academia (Figure 1).
Unfortunately such partnerships are very dependent on high level expertise and will break down with changes in staffing unless enshrined in award degree programs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as enshrining a unit removes the flexibility inherent in the original course design. Also new staff will bring new skills and the opportunity to develop new partnerships in previously unexplored engineering fields.
The success of the combined courses is dependent upon support from industry organisations, which in turn are funded directly from industry. If the courses are not of a high quality then industry support will deservedly wither and die. Students then lose the opportunity to participate in electives to develop skills that may enhance their employability. Academics must ensure that course contents are well presented, contain state of the art information and are constantly under review.
The key to the efficiencies described in the paper remains as the academic. They must be, and remain, the leaders in teaching, research and professional practice if they are to have successful academic careers in engineering. Partnerships with industry such as described here will enhance and support their prospects and also provide a gateway to the real world of engineering.
Bullen, F. (1994). School of Civil Engineering, QUT, Strategic Planning Workshop (unpublished).
Farrelly, R. (1994). AUSTROADS and AAPA educational initiative. Proc. 9th AAPA Int. Asphalt Conf. Session 6 - Improved Performance from Technology Transfer. Surfers Paradise, Queensland.
University of Tasmania (2000). University of Tasmania Plan 2000-2002. Hobart, Tasmania.
|Contact details: Professor Frank Bullen, School of Engineering, University of Tasmania|
Phone (03) 6226 2131 Fax (03) 6226 7248 Email Frank.Bullen@utas.edu.au
Please cite as: Bullen, F. and Liston, J. (2001). Integrating Continuing Education courses and Engineering coursework units. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 89-98. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/aset-herdsa2000/procs/bullen.html