384354 Optimizing the Design and Implementation of the Upper Level Curriculum: Making the Case for Scheduling Analysis of an Undergraduate Program

Wednesday, November 19, 2014: 3:38 PM
M106 - M107 (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
Benjamin Wilhite, Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

Over the past decade, undergraduate programs in chemical engineering have experienced a groundswell of enrollment, coinciding with renewed interest in reducing the time to graduation and the associated costs for undergraduate education in general. At Texas A&M University, undergraduate graduating classes have increased from an average of 40 students (~1995 – 2000) to over 150 students since 2008.  Most recently, the Dwight Look College of Engineering made headlines announcing the “25 by 25 Initiative” which aims to double engineering enrollment over the next decade. This significant increase in student enrollment has reinvigorated several debates regarding how a department may best utilize its limited resources (the number of available teaching faculty) while facilitating student graduation in a timely fashion. Several departments have followed a strategy of offering courses multiple times per year to facilitate 4-5 year graduation rates; however in doing so departments reduce the number of faculty available to team-teach courses with large enrollment. This ultimately leads to a debate as to what scheduling strategy is ‘best,’ which in turn raises the question as to whether the same techniques industry employs to ensure the most efficient and effective process (i.e., scheduling analysis) can by employed in academia to identify more efficient and effective implementation of an undergraduate curriculum. 

This talk details a recent analysis performed during my tenure as director of the undergraduate program in Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M, and serves to illustrate the potential for scheduling analysis to provide a firm footing for weighing the impact of curriculum planning upon faculty teaching loads and student graduation rates.  Alternately, for a given departmental vision regarding curricular implementation, such analysis has the potential to identify the resources needed to meet said vision. The scheduling analysis consists of (i) construction of a curricular structure matrix detailing course sequencing via pre-requisites, and its use for generating a course node structure divided into multiple sub-structures for subsequent scheduling analysis; (ii) construction of a course scheduling matrix for identifying the availability of each course on a per-semester basis, which combines with the curricular structure matrix to enable construction of a scheduling node structure; and (iii) use of this scheduling node structure to predict student graduation rates and per-semester course enrollments.  As will be shown, scheduling analysis has the potential to be a valuable tool for any department wishing to quantitatively and accurately study the impact of student enrollment, curriculum design and course offering strategies upon classroom size, faculty demands and graduate rates.

Extended Abstract: File Not Uploaded
See more of this Session: Free Forum on Engineering Education: Junior and Senior Years
See more of this Group/Topical: Education Division