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Developing Soft Skills to produce Work-Ready International Graduate Diploma Students in Engineering: a Comparative Study


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Introduction: Engineering education has increased its emphasis on the development of soft skills to produce work-ready Engineers to meet the requirements of professional accrediting institutions. One key soft skill is confident public speaking. A major impediment to this is confidence with English language, particularly for EAL (English as and Additional Language) students.
New Zealand, like many countries, has an “export education” sector: many international students come to study in New Zealand as an EAL speaker. One offering for International students is the Graduate Diploma, a one year qualification for graduate international students which aims to produce work-ready engineers.
This paper investigates how performance of Graduate Diploma International (GDI) students differed across two cohorts, the 2019 and 2020 intake, in the area of oral presentation skills, when the classes were structured differently: GDI mixed with Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BET) students, and GDI students placed into a separate group from BET students.
Literature: “Soft skills”, such as interpersonal communication, teamwork and professionalism are critical for success in an environment of global competition (Farr and Brazil, 2009) and for developing leadership (Robles, 2012; Development Dimensions International, 2016, as cited in Dishman, 2016). Undergraduate research projects develop soft-skills, especially communication (Carter, Ro, Alcott, and Lattuca, 2016), which can be assessed formally via oral presentations. Oral presentations can be particularly anxiety-inducing for EAL students, due to the additional impediment of speaking in a language with which they are less confident (Woodrow, 2006; Mak, 2011).

Methods: We compare the performance of GDI students across two years’ cohorts: 2019 and 2020 in two oral presentations for the Final Year Project (FYP) course: the early presentation occuring in April/May, and the final presentation, in November. Due to class size and staff availability, the students in the 2020 FYP course were split into two groups, one containing all international students (GDI students) and one which contained mainly domestic students (the BET). This resulted in some “field data” on the impact of such a split. We compare the performance of the 2020 cohort of GDI students (n = 43) in their FYP presentations to the performance of the 2019 cohort of GDI students (n = 23).

Results: GDI students in the 2020 cohort on average performed better in their oral presentations at both points in the course than GDI students in the 2019 cohort.

Conclusion: Oral Communication is a key soft-skill required of work-ready engineers. The Graduate Diploma is a one year qualification that aims to produce work-ready engineers. When Graduate Diploma International students were placed into a group by themselves, they performed better in oral presentations than when placed into a class mixed with Bachelor of Engineering Technology students.

Item Type: Item presented at a conference, workshop or other event, and published in the proceedings
Uncontrolled Keywords: Soft Skills, Engineering education, Professional accrediting institutions, International Students,
Subjects: T Technology > T Technology (General)
T Technology > TJ Mechanical engineering and machinery
Divisions: Schools > Centre for Engineering and Industrial Design
Depositing User: Mohammad Al-Rawi
Date Deposited: 13 May 2021 21:55
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 09:17

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