Monday, April 5, 2010

PDENG 55 Course Evaluation

Oh god, I can't believe its all over. It feels pretty good. I enjoyed writing my course evaluation, as this is the first time I've really put into words my thoughts on the program. I suppose that I should have done something for the formal investigation thing way back, but I was more in "suck it up and bear it" mode, as I knew no changes would really influence me. I've included my thoughts that I submitted with the course critique.

Course Content:

PDEng55 may be the most relevant and topical PDEng course of them all, and has most faithfully adhered to the PDEng tenant of not teaching, but evaluating preexisting skills. Despite this the assignments are tedious, rote and largely meaningless to a group of students (engineers in training) that are used to accomplishing, solving, or at least elucidating something during the completion of an assignment or course. PDEng offers nothing to take away for a student, only a check mark and knowledge of another tedious life experience finished. A way of improving this type of content escapes me, but I leave that in your very capable hands.

Course Experience:
My mentor (Ada Zacaj) marked very fairly, communicated well, answered emails promptly, and obviously was working to improve the PDEng experience. It is interesting and notable that in previous PDEng courses (15-45) I had passed (50%+) an assignment on the first submission only once or twice total (in failed cases of course I proceeded to do only the corrections suggested by the marker, resubmit, and pass), but during this course I received a Strong (100%) on each submission the first time. No significant changes have occurred in my writing skills or experience that would explain this radical change. It is also worth noting that other students under Zacaj also mentioned to me "easy marking", but students under other mentors still experienced the "hard marking" that we've seen before. This seemed to work out quite well for me, but perhaps was not fair to others?

The topics covered (distinctions between Canadian and international Engineering accreditation and professional organizations, globalization) are far more relevant than any covered in a previous PDEng course. The marking was so much easier than previous offerings of PDEng that it was almost laughable (and therefore much more enjoyable and less tedious for a student).

If any significant improvement on the course experience for students is to be had, a radical change in course content and philosophy must occur. I am not sure that even the PDEng Task Force is quite up to this challenge, as even a significant improvement towards "bearable" for students (and please make note of this: the course is currently completely unbearable for students, I think surveys must show this), would not do much to sway student opinion, which is very firmly entrenched (as evidenced by T-Shirts everywhere) in believing "PDEng Sucks".

I'm not one to say that there is never any hope, but PDEng has done much to alienate the student body and token "Task Forces" and "Course Evaluations" are too little too late for many of us. Thankfully the student population is highly transient, and after a few "generations", all memory of the painful experience of PDEng may be gone. If my experience with PDEng55 is evidence of a PDEng program improvement (and not just an improvement from 15 to 55), then significant steps have already been made. Please continue these steps and good luck.

Final Comments:
One of the few redeeming facts about PDEng is that it gets students writing... something. Technical writing, and more broadly being able to write intelligently about most anything is a very valuable skill, one that PDEng cultures to no end by requiring lengthy reports on topics as vague and soft as "globalization" (PDENG55) or "What animal best represents you and your coworkers?" (PDENG15). At least there has been some improvement based on those two examples. But officially PDEng does not exist to culture extemporaneous and flexible writing skills (read: BS), but rather to develop a series of vague and ill defined "professional skills". I think PDEng may work better if everyone acknowledged exactly what purposes it serves. A: to introduce students to rote, meaningless work that will become a (however small or large) part of any career, B: to look good on paper (for students and the university), and C: to allow students in their future careers to look at any tedious task, smile and say "At least its not PDEng!".
(N.B. This is not a joke, this purpose is justified and laudable, just better not cloaked in some "Professional Development" costume. Even a small amount of jest about this introduced into the course would make students feel a lot better about it.)

1 comment:

  1. KUDOS!

    that sir was the most eloquently written "PDeng Sucks" I've come across thus far. I've been making it a point to criticize PDeng in my assignments in small amounts... practicing my "spinning" skills.