Improving PD: Use of Student Feedback and the Course Design Process

Hello, everyone! It’s Anson, with an education update. Last winter, one of the things I campaigned on was to utilize student feedback in order to look into whether the Professional Development (PD) program can be made more valuable to the average engineering student.

It is my understanding that many students have common questions and opinions regarding PD. For those in first year, PD courses are online courses you take during co-op with the aim of improving various professional skills.

Last Tuesday, Erin Smith and Marc Aucoin met with me to discuss improvements to PD and some of the processes behind the creation of PD courses. Erin is the WatPD Associate Director of Program Improvement, and Marc is the Academic Director for WatPD, Engineering. Erin and Marc very helpfully shared the general processing tools for how student feedback from the end-of-course surveys is recorded, as well as a summary of areas of improvement that students have identified in their comments.

Incorporating Student Feedback

A couple of the common identified areas were improving real-world relevance of course content, workload, and relevance to students of all departments (e.g. as opposed to having many mechanical-related examples in the course). Erin informed me that this feedback has been incorporated into PD 21 (the second PD course all engineering students take), where new examples have been inserted into course content to capture more disciplines with real-world applications. PD 22 (Ethics) was indicated in feedback to have the highest workload; the workload for some assessments has since been reduced.

Each PD course undergoes re-design/re-development every 4 years. Currently, PD 21 is undergoing re-development. To improve this course, more interactive activities are being included in course content, as well as examples from a more diverse range of disciplines.

Survey feedback tends to be polarized, with for example some students feeling that pace is too slow while others indicating that pace is just right, and so it is challenging to please both sides. For this particular feedback, PD courses are required to be at least 20 hours in length which students are not necessarily aware of, so a change in pace would require additional content as a result.

Regarding the relevance and aims of the PD program, Erin has the following remarks:

“PD content is applicable for early stages in a career as well as the long term. The courses are designed for students. They are designed not only to impact the co-op experience, but to benefit students in the long-term once they graduate and start their careers. The importance of these skills can become more apparent the longer you are in the workforce.

Soft skills are useful now and also in the future. The program is not just about the short-term perspective or just about the long-term perspective. It is our hope that by introducing/reinforcing the soft skills theory/best practices students develop skills earlier or at a quicker pace than they would without the courses.”

PD Course Design Process

ad-01PD courses are different from regular courses in several regards. First, the 13 PD courses operate in a system, rather than as individuals. Changes to one must be aligned in delivery and workload to the rest of the courses in the set. As well, there are more stakeholders involved with PD than in regular courses, and changes tend to need to go through consultation through many sources of influence. For these two reasons, change tends not to be radical within PD courses, but more gradual. Albeit, by the examples above, it is happening without us necessarily knowing after we pass the course.

The creation of the course happens in several steps. When a new PD course is needed, a request for proposals (RFP) is sent out. Interested potential instructors (individuals or teams) submit proposals to pitch their topic ideas. The WatPD Engineering Curriculum Committee and/or the Co-operative Education Council votes on these proposals, based on quality, potential to engage students, and individual or team’s track record. Incidentally, I sit on both committees. It should be noted that professors are mainly incentivized to submit proposals because they are genuinely interested in the topics. Sometimes, the committee shoulder-taps outstanding individuals or teams that they feel would be suitable to teach the course.

I hope that provides a little more insight into the PD process, and where that feedback you provide for a bonus 1% gets taken into account. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach me at I will continue to represent your PD-related interests at upcoming WatPD Curriculum Committee and Co-operative Education Council meetings.

Thanks for reading!

Anson Chen
Engineering Society ‘B’ VP Education