Thestudy of transversal skills acquisition by engineering students has becomecentral in ensuring future professional employability by studying how to define and prioritise such competence,identify most effective learninginterventions and evaluation of thesecompetences by engineering students with this study focusing on the lattertwo.Thisis influenced by labour market demands and consequently by various bodies ofengineering like ABET and IEA on one hand, and educational bodies like EHEA andIChemE, that training institutions produce engineering graduates thatdemonstrate transversal competencies along with technical or engineering specificcompetences to improve the graduates’ employability (Hernandez-Linares et al,2013 and Zou et al, 2012).Thisstudy objectives is to determine that (1) students’ transversal skills can bedeveloped systematically through appropriately designed learning interventionsand (2) tools used to measure the progress of such students in differenttransversal competences (Zou et al, 2012) while also (3) detecting of students’areas of weakness in cross-curricular training development (Hernandez-Linareset al, 2013).Zouet al, 2012 research affirms all three objectives however limiting scope toonly teamwork dimension of transversal competences. However, Hernandez-Linareset al, 2013 research scope includes 45 identified dimensions but has limitedobjectives of evaluating progress and identifying priority ones whichcomplements Zou and others work as it is suggestive that this can be extendedbeyond teamwork.
Whileboth papers findings are complementary, a comparative critique of the twopapers’ scopes, approaches and methods will be discussed. Furthermore similaritiesand differences between the papers’ research and approach will be discussed aswell as discussion of the central issues they raise. Further focus will especiallybe on the quality of the design of their methods and how well they have usedstatistics to analyse their results including ethical considerations related totheir type of research. Similarities The two papers are a contributionstudy of how the engineering teaching can be further be aligned to emergingdemands that for future engineering graduates’ employability to meet employers’expectations, their transversal skills development must be explicit. While bothpapers acknowledge this to be a universal transition and have linked this toindustry bodies of engineering like ABET and IEA and also educational bodieslike EHEA and IChemE, Hernandes et al, 2013, study has its reference frameworkas the Europe’s Bologna process whereas for Zou et al, 2012 reference academiclearning models like Tonso’s (2006) wholaid down a framework for building teamwork and the BESTEAMS (which stands forBuilding Engineering Student Team Effectiveness and Management Systems) programdeveloped by Natishan et al. (2000) (Zou et al).Moreover the two papersacknowledge that their work is not new as previous extensive work done in thisarea already (Hernandes et al, 2013 and Zou et al, 2012); however they both tryto show the benefits of their now contextualized studies to areas and/orapproaches not previously or minimally used.
Both research adopt an impericalstudy approach unlike previous studies that are only theoretical which Hernandes et al 2013 claim “provide a more practical point of view,providing data in order to develop a more in-depth understanding of this areaand help teachers overcome difficulties arising from a shift in methodologicalperspective”. Furthermore Zou et al, 2012 allege Hong Kong requires contextualresearch in necessary as “Hong Kong’s history and its socio-economic climateare very different from those of Mainland China (Tung, 1991) and therefore canbe seen as a blend of East and West (Ralston et al., 1993)” including the factthat the industry and university of interest has adopted USA standardization.The two researches utilizeprimary data collected either exclusively from university engineering students(Hernandez et al, 2013) orpopulation that is dominantly mostly same but has other sources (Zou et al,2012) yet no ethical considerations are mentioned by either set of authors likedeclarations of conflict on interest as they would be biased as universities’staff members.
Nor was there any mention of ethical considerations related to useof a vulnerable group (i.e. students) given their inability to give ameaningfully informed consent and also to their need for further protection andsensitivity from the researcher. While both papers utilized empiricalapproach explore effective teaching of transversal skills to engineering, with(Zou et al, 2012) focusing on teamwork competence rather than exploring othercomponents of transversal skills, their findings are complementary. In contextof Hernandez et al, 2012, both papers affirm that transversal skills can indeedbe acquired and the level of acquisition be measured or evaluated through bothquantitative and qualitative feedback tools like structured questionnaires(Hernandez et al, 2013 and Zou et al 2012) and interviews, focus groups (Zou etal, 2012) respectively.Hernandez et al, 2013 approach toexplore whole transversal skill set has the advantage of demonstrating that theevaluation of such skills can be evaluated using same tools same time but lacksbenefits of specificity inherent with Zou et al, 2012 approach.
Therefore whilewe know that all can be evaluated through same means both papers do notindicate if methodology to deliver across component need be same or specificand this may be important as learning institutions consider teaching costsassociated with transitioning to this emerging requirements. Hernandez et al,2013 prioritization to only nine dimensions as key is a benefit to the users ofthe study. MethodsZou et al, 2012 multipleapproach when collecting data (utilising both quantitative (structuredquestionnaires) and qualitative (open ended questions, structured and openinterviews, focus group interviews) methods) from multiple sources longitudinallywas appropriate and beneficial compared to Hernandez et al, 2013 approachthough this was most likely very convenient and time-saving approach for therespondents.
Utilising multiple sourcesof data allowed for greater acceptability of findings based on consistency andcorrelation of responses across data sources whereas longitudinal span avoidedthe limitations of once off, no pre and post data issues arising from Hernadezet al approach. These issues include “not being able to determine if studentsare improving their perception of the abilities and transferable skills theypossess and their transversal competences, in order to verify if suchcompetences” and whether these “are being developed properly within thedifferent study programs” (Hernandez et al, 2013).However one advantage method Hernandez et al, 2013 employedat data collection was validation of the questionnaire using Cronbach alpha forinternal consistencies which communicates confidence to the reader.
Data collection methods employed in both papers’ had furtherdisadvantage in that questionnaires and interviews as methods rely onrespondents’ recollection and opinions about events so rather, the authorscould have considered use of observations instead of interviews. Descriptiveand variance analysis statistical methods were employed and this in showingprogress perceived skill gain by respondents.