Analysis of student success in Mechanical Engineering at the Durban University of Technology
Graham, Bruce Robert
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The department of Mechanical Engineering at the Durban University of Technology currently offers a National Diploma (ND) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Technology (BTech), as well as a MEng. and a DEng. This thesis details four areas of study that were undertaken in an attempt to identify potential impediments to student success in the department, using readily available data. The universities’ management information system (ITS) was the primary source of data, but limited data was also obtained from courses that the author taught, as outlined in section (4) below. A grounded action research framework was selected as the methodological framework for these studies as it allowed the freedom to refine an investigation as it progressed as well as to implement potential solutions and determine their efficacy. The four areas covered were: (1) Analysis of trends in student success rates. A number of changes were made to the National Diploma over a five year period including the introduction of supplementary examinations, the removal of elective offerings, the change in the sequence of subjects offered and a reduction in contact time. This same period also coincided with the first cohort of students entering with the new NSC matric qualification. This study examined the success rates within subjects, across four semesters of study, from 2007 until 2010 and attempts to show the effects, either positive or negative, that these changes have had. The success rates of subjects within the BTech programme were also interrogated for this same period. These results were also categorised according to whether students obtained their diploma at DUT or at another institution allowing a comparison between the two cohorts. (2) Workplace Learning (WPL). Anecdotal evidence suggested that the manner in which the WPL components were offered had a negative effect on student throughput as well as not providing substantial opportunity for the integration of experience gained in industry with the academic programme. This study, utilising WPL registrations from 2007 to 2010, examined the average time taken to complete the WPL components, the percentage of the academic component completed before and during the WPL period as well as the dropout rate. (3) Relationship between NSC results and success in Mechanical Engineering. The purpose of this study was to determine if relationships could be found between student’s NSC results and success within the programme. This would inform if the departmental entrance requirements were of an appropriate level to ensure prospective students a reasonable chance of success. Results of selected NSC subjects were correlated with those of selected diploma subjects. The distributions of success in these subjects were tabulated against the NSC results allowing a better understanding of the relationship between them. (4) Investigation into causes of poor performance in Hydraulic Machines III. This study was undertaken to better understand the competencies and learning practices of the students in the author’s class. This involved the interrogation of the performance of students over a number of assessments, the tracking of usage of online resources and the tracking of lecture attendance, and subsequent correlation with performance. These studies have led to a better understanding of the programmes offered and have put the department in a position to make informed decisions regarding interventions aimed at increasing student success. The work covered in this thesis was presented in two full papers (Graham and Walker, 2011, Graham and Walker, 2015) and two extended abstracts (Graham and Walker, 2013, Walker and Graham, 2013).