Letter to the Editor: PDeng Renewal

Donald A Fraser - Senior Demonstrator and Head TA (retired)
Posted on: May 19, 2010

Dear Editor,

This letter concerns the process of PDEng renewal which has just been completed. It was written before the dramatic events of the past few days. These events have been addressed in a following letter which Iron Warrior has also published.

During the winter term I followed the Task Force recommendations and student responses with interest. While it is true that the PDEng renewal process has been open and receptive to student criticism, I was alarmed at a few things:

The Number of Student Participants

The Task Force indicated that only 400 students responded. PDEng affects 5000. This means that less than 10% participated. How can anyone complain later on if the new version of PDEng is unsatisfactory? Just read below to see some of the things that students should be noticing. The URL for the renewal process feedback is:

http://www.engineering.uwaterloo.ca/pdengrenewal/home.php

Interpretation of Positive(+) Student Responses

I notice that the Task Force is keeping a tally of percentage (+), (-) and (Not Rated) responses. There are two very different interpretations of positive (+) responses that are coming out of the written comments:

  • Anything was better than the previous incarnation of this item. It’s an improvement. Keep going. Basically the responder is so happy that The Task Force is headed in the correct direction that he/she is encouraging the committee with a positive response but (unstated but implied) means that the Task Force should keep going … they haven’t arrived yet by a long shot.
  • This improvement is OK and doesn’t need any further change. The responder is completely satisfied and his/her comment should be taken as a vote of ‘yes’.

If further student participation is allowed and if students intend to convey the first interpretation they should not indicate a positive response, but rather a “Not Rated” response. This will prevent the statistics from being skewed to the “positive” side and giving the impression that the item in question needs no further improvement. In other words, the students may very well complain bitterly about the very points for which they gave a (+) because the Task Force did not continue to improve on it.

The Major Problems with the Previous Version of PDEng

The three major problems, I am sorry to say, do not seem to be addressed sufficiently:

1.) Placing PDEng on the Work term. As previously stated so many times in my Iron Warrior editor letters and letters to many others. To an employer, the PDEng program is a huge imposition. Either the students are stealing time during working hours due to the fact that they only have access at the workplace, or they arrive for work exhausted from long hours spent doing PDEng assignments, angry that they have been denied normal rest and recreation time in their after-work environment and angry at the arrogant and unprofessional treatment received at the hands of PDEng staff.

The Task Force must consider the employers. Otherwise they will just stop hiring our students and go elsewhere without ever saying why. It is probably already occurring. Has anyone ever polled the employers? Does anyone intend to check with them or even think about employers?

Much of the material can only be sufficiently covered on campus by practicing professional engineers; for example, engineering failures  – the causes, engineering failures – who is responsible, engineering failures – court case outcomes,  ethical behaviour  etc etc. The present staff is professionally unqualified to deal with this content. They are NOT professional engineers!!!!!!!!!!

2.) The Length of the Program. The course can cover everything in one term if we eliminate fancy learning theory and just teach the necessary material. What is the mysterious force driving the dragging out of this content?

3.) Accountability. Course critiques don’t work even when there are merit pay consequences. Experience at UofW shows that busy researching professors just don’t improve their presentation in response to critiques. In the case of PDEng there aren’t even merit pay consequences. To avoid the runaway problems that brought on the Independent Review, there must be a watchdog committee constantly monitoring students’ complaints,marking practices, and the manner of response to students. This committee must have teeth.

Students Have an Avenue of Redress in Policy 33

Policy 33 does not deal just with “Poisoned Environment” issues which have been liberally (and improperly) applied to those who criticized PDEng . Policy 33 also deals with “undue interference with the work and workplace environment” of any member of the UofW community. Policy 33 states that this covers any official off-campus activities which definitely include the coop work terms of our students. While off-campus-employers cannot appeal to the policy, as I was able to do, all of our students can. The previous incarnation of PDEng did indeed interfere with their work and work environment in a big way. The Renewal Task Force must restrain the amount of this interference or PDEng will again be subject to Policy 33 violation complaints.

Interference in the workplace includes denial of normal rest and recreational time in the after-work environment of our students. Everybody needs rest and recreation to be normal and healthy. There are plenty of pressures from work itself and from getting settled in another environment (including another country, other customs and languages) without PDEng adding to them by requiring unfair amounts of work.

The nice thing about Policy 33 is that its authority comes from outside the Engineering Faculty. Nobody in Engineering with a vested interest in PDEng can interfere with or quash a Policy 33 complaint procedure. If all else fails, students or groups of students who feel that PDEng interference is just too much and downright unfair should use this avenue to protect themselves and force the changes that may very well not come our of the renewal process.

Yours truly

Donald A Fraser,

Senior Demonstrator and Head TA (retired)

  • Simon

    Sigh…… I really do hope your article makes a difference. Its tiring to even think about it. I’m gonna stop typing now or else I have time to finish my assignment 3….on a Saturday……sigh