Service Learning
A teaching tool connecting community and classroom

Multi-disciplinary Project

BE in Civil Engineering/ BSc in Project & Construction Management / M.A. in Environmental, Society & Development (Geography) - Management Development

Course Director: Dr Mark Healy/ Dr Marie Mahon
Course Title: BE in Civil Engineering/ BSc in Project & Construction Management / M.A. in Environmental, Society & Development (Geography)
Subject: Management Development
Year: 3nd Year Engineering (undergraduate) / 1st Year Geography (Postgraduate)
: 170 students
Hours: 60 Hours undergrads, 200 Hours postgrads
Credits: 3 ECTS undergrads, 10 ECTS postgrads
Length: 1 Semester
Community Partners: 38 NGOs

Collaboration between colleagues in Civil Engineering, Geography and CKI led to the introduction of an interdisciplinary project in 2010 into a number of programmes in NUI Galway. This multi-disciplinary module, entitled ‘Managing Development' links the MA in Environment, Society & Development (Geography) with the BE in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the BSc in Project & Construction Management. It involved 19 students from the School of Geography and Archaeology and 150 students from the College of Engineering and Informatics. The idea for the module was initially developed by Dr Jamie Goggins (Engineering) and Dr. Brenda Gallagher (Geography). They were keen to develop approaches to teaching that would engage students with communities in a practical and meaningful way. Engineering and Geography clearly presented a number of dimensions for successful collaboration. This module complements the engineering projects that the engineering students carry out with community partners in the second year of their programme. Third year civil engineering students are also given the opportunity to work in Zambia and Nepal with two NGOs, Alan Kerins Projects and Foundation Nepal, as part of their professional experience programme (see ‘Engineering for Humanity' section).

This multi-disciplinary module involved groups of MA and Engineering students jointly developing critiques of a selected range of NGOs, leading to the production of a set of evaluation posters which assist these NGOs in identifying strengths and weaknesses, and thereby contributing towards improving their approaches to particular activities or strategies in which they are engaged. This project-based approach involves students adopting specific roles as part of a team, collaborating with one other to devise the project structure, set realistic goals and timelines, and deliver an end product.

The format provided an active learning environment for students, enabling them to apply classroom based learning to an actual organisation, in order to identify how or whether such concepts and approaches are being interpreted and applied in a real-life setting, to comprehend the potential gap between theory and practice when set against such a real-life situation, and to suggest whether and how examples of actual policy and practice might be redefined and improved.

As mentioned, the exercise is multidisciplinary in nature, involving students from two separate Colleges; it also involved collaboration with NUIG's Community Knowledge Initiative, thus incorporating a strong community-relevant dimension to each project. A deeper understanding of the NGO sector enhanced students' awareness that altruism and civic responsibility were to be valued and encouraged in both personal and professional spheres. From the NGOs perspective, the students' evaluations of their individual organisations had revealed the potential for continued collaboration into the future: "What the students have revealed is that their particular perspectives, drawn from both geography and engineering, can provide very rich and critical insights that enhance understanding of a wide spectrum of development issues, and which in turn can help NGOs to better project the invaluable work they already do".

Dr. Brenda Gallagher (School of Geography and Archaeology) who brought her own professional experience of development work in Malawi, remarked that the project has presented the students with a broader perspective on development within national and international communities: "There are many fixed ideas about the nature of NGO activities and often little awareness about the difficult practical and ideological environments which they must navigate. This project has helped to bring the students closer to an understanding of these issues, and to identifying ways they can constructively assist NGOs in their activities".