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FINAL YEAR PROJECTS – A MEANS OF ADDING VALUE TO GRADUATE ATTRIBUTES

Andrew Nafalski, Özdemir Göl and Kevin McDermott

University of South Australia


School of Electrical and Information Engineering
Mawson Lakes 5095, Australia

Abstract

This paper illustrates the process of developing graduate qualities by means of motivational final
year projects. Such projects place substantial responsibility on the students to take their own
initiatives, and to attain the knowledge base required for accomplishing tasks essentially outside
their area of formal learning. In doing so, they develop graduate qualities sought by their
university, by potential employers and professional organisations, both in Australia and globally.
The projects involve complete cycles of engineering design from conceptualisation to realisation,
thus giving ample scope for the exercise of the full spectrum of such qualities. It is postulated that
these projects play a crucial role in converting semi-reflective learners into immediately
employable professional engineers, aware of the need for, and capable of, continuous professional
and social development.

1. INTRODUCTION

There has been an increasing emphasis on the In engineering, final year projects have always been
acquisition of graduate attributes or qualities in the considered as the means of demonstrating the efficacy
course of undergraduate university studies. The of knowledge and skills acquired by more formal,
impetus has come from many stakeholders, including usually didactic processes.
government agencies, employers, professional bodies
higher level
and society at large. The underlying concerns have
been both professional, in the sense of graduates being
judgement
able to deliver technically sound solutions in a
synthesis
complex working environment, and ethical, as regards
their responsibilities for sustainable development and application
action
moral action. Universities and professional bodies analysis
have developed sets of desired generic graduate comprehension
attributes and key performance indicators gauging the state
knowledge
effectiveness of providers in achieving the stated
outcomes of educational programs. This increase in
accountability has caused institutions to look more Fig 1. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
carefully at how their programs are structured and
implemented, and particularly at how the desired Within the School of Electrical and Information
qualities are to be inculcated and nurtured [1], [2]. Engineering (EIE) at the University of South Australia
(UniSA), they are not only seen as a proving ground
The intrinsic link between technical knowledge and of problem solving and design prowess, but also as an
generic attributes of practitioners is beginning to instrument of adding value to other desired graduate
emerge in basic texts [3] with explicit statements of attributes. These range from communication skills
the outcome dictated content and delivery. through professional and ethical responsibilities to
ability to function in multi-disciplinary teams.
Most readers will be aware of the emphasis on Activities implicit in and associated with final year
demonstrated acquisition of generic skills now projects are mapped against the University’s list of
required by accreditation authorities. There is an desired graduate qualities (UniSA uses the term
emphasis in these criteria on what graduate engineers qualities rather than attributes) [5].
are able to do. This is consistent with Bloom’s
Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, in which the 2. IMPLEMENTATION OF GRADUATE
ability to execute is classed as a higher level activity QUALITIES
than the acquisition of knowledge per se. The
Taxonomy is depicted in Fig. 1 [4]. Within UniSA, the engineering schools pioneered the
development and use of a method for planning and
determining the extent to which generic qualities are • be able to initiate creative responses to problems
developed in programs and courses. For each course, and frame such responses as opportunities.
curriculum designers enter proportions of the course
which are conceived as leading to the formation of The complete list of graduate qualities and generic
each of the generic qualities. The typical total indicators is given in Appendix 1. These generic
weighting for a course is 4.5, the nominal unit value indicators can be used in developing objectives,
for a standard one-semester course. These weightings strategies and assessment, and for verifying the
are summed by academic year for each program, and likelihood that courses will achieve the proportions of
the results represented graphically [6]. graduate quality development claimed [6], [7].

When represented graphically, this information 3. SYSTEMS ENGINEERING


reveals possible deficiencies in the spread of graduate FOUNDATION
qualities over the entire program. Anomalies can be
addressed to provide better balance. Course Students are not expected to spontaneously develop
objectives, relevant teaching and learning strategies, the insights and skills required for successful
and assessment methods are devised to achieve the completion of complex projects without some measure
graduate attributes to the extent envisaged. of prior preparation. This is achieved within the
School by incorporating formal teaching of the
The process has not been without controversy, since it Systems Engineering (SE) approach in all program
has been viewed by some as an overly mechanistic streams.
way of representing abstract attributes.
Notwithstanding, it has been adopted throughout the Systems Engineering – a holistic view of the
University as a pragmatic means of infusing the enterprise, rather than simply ‘engineering of systems’
importance of graduate attributes into program design. – has become indispensable in the planning of
Furthermore the approach facilitates measurement of complex projects, such as the design of contemporary
achievements in terms of graduate attributes, which is large commercial aircraft. The discipline received
increasingly a requirement by professional accrediting considerable impetus during the space race. Later, it
bodies such as the Institution of Engineers Australia was found to be indispensable for the successful
(IEAust), Accreditation Board of Engineering and implementation of large software projects. Amongst
Technology (ABET) in U.S.A. and the Institution of other advantages, the rigorous decomposition of the
Electrical Engineers (IEE) in U.K. software suite into modules with minimal,
functionally defined interfaces enabled such systems
In order to measure the level of attainment of the to be tested, something which is impossible for
graduate qualities, the University has developed complete systems with their infinite number of
‘generic indicators’. For example, regarding the possible states. One possible representation of key SE
Quality No. 3, a graduate will: activities is given in Fig. 2 [8].

• gather, evaluate and deploy relevant information At UniSA, the drive for the inclusion of SE in
to assist problem solving – i.e. analysis and programs conducted by the School of EIE came via
synthesis; both the ‘complex project’ and software engineering
• define researchable questions in the discipline or practices. The School has a defence industry
professional area; sponsored research entity, the Systems Engineering
• apply strategies to conceptualise problems and and Evaluation Centre (SEEC), and a flourishing
formulate a range of solutions; Computer Systems Engineering Centre. Both are

Fig. 2 The Systems Engineering process


involved in teaching the common undergraduate SE past experiences, but they are applied involuntarily to
courses. The pedagogy employed is itself based on SE new circumstances, whether appropriately or not.
principles. Introductory description and discussion
starts with user needs for successful project outcomes, The case for experiential learning can be argued from
suggests necessary functions and metrics, before theoretical considerations. In another place, the
teasing out specific methods which are then assessed authors have argued the case for experiential learning
and refined to produce a total SE approach. The on physiological, psychological, epistemological and
students then practise this sequence in developing pragmatic grounds [9].
group projects.
It seems then, that there are special learnings
The accreditation visit of IEAust [13] has confirmed obtainable through experience, and corresponding
the merit of the SE approach in the course sequence reasons why we should resist the prevailing trend to
and final year project courses. In these courses continue to replace experiential learning by academic
emphasis is on ample scope and requirement for indoctrination. An obvious and common vehicle for
problem identification, definition and solution in ill- students to learn by experience is in their final year
defined and open-ended situations, with emphasis on projects. Within the School of EIE at UniSA, final
lateral thinking. A good introduction is also given to year project work is weighted relatively heavily.
software engineering methodologies, which are seen
as a combination of design and project management. 5. FRAMEWORK OF FINAL YEAR
The report stated: “Business and management aspects PROJECTS
of engineering were treated in the Systems
Engineering strand of subjects – which the staff saw as The following is a typical statement for the aims of a
discipline-specific… The Panel was particularly final year engineering design project within the
impressed with this strand and with the explicit School of EIE:
attention given to development of systems thinking
skills.” “To provide students with experience and appreciation
of the process of performing engineering projects in
4. THE NEED FOR EXPERIENCE one of the streams of engineering associated with
information technology, including the specification,
From its beginnings, engineering education was a design and development, customer interaction and
form of tutelage. The earliest engineers learned their reporting processes. Students will work together in
craft through observation and practice, supplemented teams under the guidance of an experienced
by whatever instruction was relevant and available. supervisor, often from industry, and learn about the
Increasingly, the learning of engineering has been processes of team-work.”
transferred from the workplace to the schools, theory
has been substituted for practice, and the attempt has The expectation is that, on completion of the subject,
been made to prepare candidates for a lifetime of the student will be able to:
practice by a concentrated academic indoctrination. In
contemporary universities, with their emphases on • perform a systems requirement analysis for an
accountability, economies of delivery and promotion information technology engineering project and
by research, experiential learning is generally under prepare related system specifications;
threat for other reasons. • propose and investigate candidate solutions for
the project, taking into account the international
However, there are some things which can only be context;
learned by experience. Manual skills are an obvious • undertake literature and computer database
example, but students returning from cooperative searches;
work placements consistently report that their • write a project management plan;
experiences have taught them valuable • schedule tasks and establish milestones for the
implementation skills, which can be demonstrated to project team;
map onto the most commonly desired generic • allocate functions to software and/or hardware
qualities. They are insistent that these skills are not for the effective achievement of the performance
achievable through conventional courses. requirement;
• model, analyse or simulate subsystems, as
Learning derived from experience is commonly
required;
persistent. It is transferable, and often influential. For
• write a design document for the system;
example, emotions are the manifestation of earlier
• design the hardware and/or software system;
experiences, stored subconsciously, but triggered by
contemporary events. Our emotions may be based on
• take account of reliability, quality assurance, and the current School of Electrical and Information
ergonomics in the system design; Engineering.
• write a test plan and specification for the system;
• perform testing to evaluate the performance of FedSat-1 is a low cost micro-satellite weighing 50 kg
the system; that will be conducting communications, space
• keep bound records of all investigations, science, remote sensing, navigation, magnetic field
calculations, meetings and testing; measurement and engineering experiments as well as
• work as part of a team and interact effectively profiling the Earth's atmosphere and testing advanced
with project sponsors and supervisors; computers for space use.
• communicate effectively the project outcomes
through a seminar on the project and the FedSat-1 has been a continuing inspiration for several
preparation of project documentation; - and, in cohorts of final year projects. The project in 2000
the case of Honours projects – also a research aimed to design, build and test 4 antennas for the
paper. ground station in Adelaide. The motivational aspect of
the project contributed significantly to the project
Needless to say, achievement of such a list of success and the development of a range of graduate
objectives is critically important since they provide attributes. The two students involved have mastered in
the skill base for successful engineering practice. a self-directed way a broad-ranging body of
However, more can be – and ought to be – gained knowledge [14], required for the project but not
from the final year design project as illustrated in [5], present in the curriculum. They have become
[9], [10], [12], [13]. information literate, creative and innovative. They had
to develop effective communication with external
Assessment is geared to the objectives listed, and partners in international context. They have graduated
involves structured, progressive and continuous with Honours and were immediately employed in
feedback. Students are also involved in the assessment defence and consulting companies. Their superiors
process and contribute to it significantly. This process highly praise their graduate attributes.
leads to the development of teamwork capabilities in
the context of effectively communicating with peers Similar observations apply in the case of another final
and supervisors. year project undertaken by a team of 3 students. The
task was to develop and verify software for microstrip
The SE structured approach to final year projects antennae for use by a reputable international company
seems to work as expected. As stated in [13]: “A in the design of cutting edge devices for security
comprehensive array of courseware and student work identification. These students had not had any formal
was provided for inspection, and was of good exposure to principles of telecommunications nor
standard. Final-year projects in particular were of antenna design, nor electromagnetic testing, since they
excellent standard. Assessment and moderation all were from the Electrical and Mechatronic
arrangements for individual and team projects were Engineering stream. Yet they successfully completed
well-developed, including peer assessment within the project to satisfaction. In the course of the project,
project teams.” they were able to acquire the necessary knowledge
and skills, negotiate with company officials, academic
6. SOME EXAMPLES staff, software suppliers and commercial operators.
They had to face the departure from the initial project
In the year 2002, to commemorate the 100th specification, which seems typical of industry
anniversary of the Australian Federation and the sponsored projects. They were also able to cope with
commencement of the new millennium, the first circumstances of crisis proportions due to the
Australian scientific satellite mission will be launched. unexpected departure of the industry supervisor who
The Federation Satellite One (FedSat-1) mission will had critical input to the project.
give Australian scientists and engineers invaluable
insight into space technology and access to carefully The above cases provide the basis for confidence that
collected Earth data. FedSat-1 is being built and the approach adopted by the School, which is firmly
operated by a consortium of research, commercial and based on the framework of graduate attributes actually
educational institutions comprising the Cooperative produces results as outcomes expected from an
Research Centre for Satellite Systems (CRCSS). The enlightened engineering education program.
leading partner in the Consortium is the Institute for
Telecommunications Research, the largest 7. CONCLUSIONS
telecommunications research institute attached to any
Australian university. The Institute emerged from the The holistic approach to curriculum design and
School of Electronic Engineering - the predecessor of delivery of engineering programs in the School of
Electrical and Information Engineering has led to a [7] The University of South Australia, “Graduate
process of developing graduate attributes that Qualities”, Flexible Learning Center, 2000.
culminates in final year projects. The projects involve
[8] Sage, A. P., “Systems Engineering”, John Wiley
complete cycles of engineering design from
& Sons, NY, 1992.
conceptualisation to realisation, thus giving ample
scope for the exercise of the full spectrum of such [9] K. McDermott, K., Göl, Ö. and Nafalski, A.,
attributes in the context of systems thinking. The “Considerations on Experience-based Learning”,
attributes are sought by the university, by potential Proceedings of UICEE 4th Annual Conference on
employers, and professional organisations; both Engineering Education, Bangkok, 2001, pp.219-
domestically and overseas. 222.
[10] Göl, Ö., Nafalski, A. and McDermott, K., “The
8. REFERENCES
Role of Industry-inspired Projects in Engineering
[1] Accreditation Board for Engineering and Education”, Proceedings of 31sth ASEE/IEEE
Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, 2001,
Technology, “Accreditation Policy and Procedure
Manual”, 2001-2002 Accreditation Cycle, pp.F3E-1-F3E-4.
Baltimore, 29 December 2000. [11] McLaughlin, D, Göl, Ö. and. Nafalski, A.,
“Increasing Student Motivation - Robotic Final
[2] The Institution of Engineers, Australia, “Manual
for the Accreditation of Professional Engineering Year Design Projects”, Proceedings of Pacific
Programs”, Canberra, October 1999. Region Conference on Electrical Engineering
Education PRCEEE’99, Victoria, 1999, pp.28-31.
[3] Hambley, A. R., “Electrical Engineering –
Principles and Applications”, 2nd ed., Prentice [12] Nafalski, A., Göl, Ö. and McDermott, K.,
Hall, New Jersey, 2002. “Innovation in Engineering Education at the
University of South Australia”, Global Journal of
[4] Cho, P., “A Great Plan for Innovative Engineering Education, vol.5, No.1, 2001, pp. 87-
Engineering Curriculum”, Proceedings of 98.
AEESEAP Midterm Conference, Seoul,
November 2001, pp 1-15. [13] The Institution of Engineers Australia, “Report of
Accreditation Visit in the University of South
[5] Göl, Ö., Nafalski, A., Schultz, A., Varcoe, T. and Australia on 7-8 August 2000”, June 2002.
Hudson, T., “The Final Year Engineering Design
Project - Beyond the Specification”, Proceedings [14] Verringer, J. and Nafalski, A., “Fractal Antenna
of UICEE 3rd Annual Conference on Engineering Application To Satellite Communications”,
JSAEM Studies in Applied Electromagnetics and
Education, Hobart, 2000, pp.206-210.
Mechanics, vol.9, Tokyo, JSAEM, 2001, pp.121-
[6] Nafalski, A., Göl, Ö. and. McDermott, K., 122.
“Professional Accreditation Toward Outcome-
driven Curricula”, Proceedings of 31sth
ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference,
Reno, USA, 2001, pp.T4A21-T4A24.
Appendix 1

The University of South Australia


Graduate Qualities and their Generic Indicators

1 A graduate of the University of South Australia operates effectively with and upon a body of knowledge of sufficient depth to begin
professional practice.
A graduate will:
• demonstrate an understanding in broad outline of a whole discipline or professional area (concepts, theories, proponents)
including a knowledge of the boundaries;
• apply knowledge (demonstrate application of theory to practice in real situations, appreciate limitations of theory, use
materials, devices, safety codes and practices, specific equipment and techniques appropriately);
• identify the methodological and substantive limitations of the field and apply the discipline or professional area’s mode of
inquiry;
• recognise the social and historical context of knowledge;
• demonstrate appropriate understanding of current research areas in the discipline or professional area.

2 A graduate is prepared for lifelong learning in pursuit of personal development and excellence in professional practice.
A graduate will:
• locate, evaluate, manage, and use information in a range of contexts – ie be information literate
• understand the limitations of, and have the capacity to evaluate, their current knowledge
• understand and accept personal weaknesses, strengths and preferred learning styles, have knowledge of a range of learning
strategies, and take responsibility for their learning and development
• maintain a positive concept of self as capable and autonomous
• sustain intellectual interest and critical thinking as a mature professional.
3 A graduate is an effective problem solver, capable of applying logical, critical and creative thinking to a range of problems.
A graduate will:
• gather, evaluate and deploy relevant information to assist problem solving – ie analysis and synthesis;
• define researchable questions in the discipline or professional area;
• apply strategies to conceptualise problems and formulate a range of solutions.
4 A graduate can work both autonomously and collaboratively as a professional.
A graduate will:
• work in a self directed way;
• use logical and rational argument to persuade others, to negotiate with others;
• work collaboratively with different groups, identify the needs of others and build positive relationships;
• work in a team (cooperate with all team members, share ideas, forgo personal recognition, negotiate solutions when opinions
differ, resolve conflict, recognise strengths of other team members, share responsibility, convey a shared vision for the team,
display a commitment to make the team function effectively).
5 A graduate is committed to ethical action and social responsibility as a professional and citizen.
A graduate will:
• demonstrate a commitment to personal ethical actions within professional contexts;
• define social aspects of a particular technology (political, economic, legislative, sociological, environmental etc);
• appreciate the impact of social change, the political decision-making process and economic imperatives of business and
industry;
• recognise social justice issues relevant to the discipline and professional area;
• appreciate the importance of sustainable development;
• demonstrate responsibility to the community – be aware of safety, efficiency, innovation, cost-effectiveness.
6 A graduate communicates effectively in professional practice and as a member of the community.
A graduate will:
• demonstrate oral, written, mathematical and visual literacies as appropriate to the discipline or professional area;
• display sensitivity to their audience in organising and presenting ideas;
• communicate appropriately with professional colleagues and the public.

7 A graduate demonstrates international perspectives as a professional and as a citizen.


A graduate will:
• display an ability to think globally and consider issues from a variety of perspectives;
• demonstrate an awareness of their own culture and its perspectives and other cultures and their perspectives;
• appreciate the relation between their field of study locally and professional traditions elsewhere;
• recognise intercultural issues relevant to their professional practice;
• appreciate the importance of multicultural diversity to professional practice and citizenship;
• appreciate the complex and interacting factors that contribute to notions of culture and cultural relationships;
• value diversity of language and culture;
• appreciate and demonstrate the capacity to apply international standards and practices within the discipline or professional area;
• demonstrate awareness of the implications of local decisions and actions for international communities and of international
decisions and actions for local communities.
http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/gradquals/whatr/index.htm