Are Students Overworked? Understanding the Workload Expectations and Realities of First-Year Engineering

Darlee Gerrard, Kirstin Newfield, Narges Balouchestani Asli, Chirag Variawa
2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings   unpublished
Narges Balouchestani-Asli holds an M.A.Sc. in Industrial Engineering and an Honors Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto. She also has a Master of Applied Science in Collaborative Program in Engineering Education. Her thesis investigated team level factors affecting innovation in multidisciplinary capstone design course. In addition to her research in engineering education, she has been involved as a teaching assistance with more than four engineering design courses
more » ... ing design courses from first year to fourth year. Abstract A study was conducted to investigate first-year engineering undergraduate student workload at the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, University of Toronto, Canada. The study was prompted by 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 nondesign 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.
doi:10.18260/1-2--27612 fatcat:tphp3tban5g3fmqghubd64cy2u