General electives in civil engineering, computer science and social science

Dunnion, J., Loughran, H. and Purcell, P. (2011) General electives in civil engineering, computer science and social science. In: International Conference on Engineering Education 2011 ‘Engineering sustainability for a global economy’, Cork..


There have been numerous calls to broaden the education of engineers and thus prepare them to serve society with an awareness of and sensitivity to the cultural, political, economic and social dimensions of their work [1]. This paper will present the experience at University College Dublin (UCD) in providing a broader education through the provision of non-programme electives for their students. In 2005, UCD introduced the Horizons initiative that resulted in the development of fully modularised, semesterised and credit-based degree programmes [2]. One of the key features of the initiative was the introduction of an element of elective choice for students in the first three years of their undergraduate studies. In each year, students can select two modules out of the twelve modules they take from any programme across the University. The proposed paper will examine the impact of the Horizons initiative on three disciplines in University College Dublin, namely, Civil Engineering, Computer Science and Social Science. Examination of the data shows that 72% of Civil Engineering students, 47% of Computer Science students and 16% of Social Science students avail of the opportunity to study modules outside their programme areas of study Few non-Civil Engineering students (5%) avail of electives offered by the programme, while in the case of Computer Science a significantly greater number (46%) avail of the opportunity to study Computer Science electives and the popularity of Social modules to non-programme students ranged from 6% to 27%, depending upon the module on offer.

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