BTEC Level 3 Nationals in Engineering: Challenges Faced by Schools and Colleges
September 2016 marked the first teaching of the new BTEC Level 3 Nationals in Engineering. The majority of students registered from September 2017 were enrolled onto these new BTEC qualifications.
The revised specification saw the introduction of externally assessed elements. This meant that most students studying a BTEC Level 3 in Engineering from September 2017 would be required to sit an examination. This exam is used to assess a core unit called Engineering Principles (Unit 1). This is a mandatory component of all new BTEC Level 3 Nationals in Engineering.
So why does this present such a huge challenge for schools and colleges?
There are actually 3 major challenges that will be discussed in this article, along with some suggestions on how each of them can be overcome.
Challenge 1: Volume of Content
The first major challenge arises because of the volume of unit content, all of which could potentially be assessed in the exam. If you are familiar with previous versions of the BTEC National qualifications, then you may already have realised that the Engineering Principles unit amalgamates content from the old Engineering Mathematics, Mechanical Principles and E&E Principles units. This would have accounted for 30 credits from a 120-credit qualification in the old framework (or ¼ of the content).
Challenge 2: Technical Nature of Content
The second challenge relates to the technical content of the unit. Finding teachers with a specialism in both Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, or sufficient knowledge to deliver this unit in its entirety will be difficult at best! Colleges may consider splitting the unit delivery between two teachers, but opportunities for applying the maths elements to contextual examples will more than likely be missed if this option is chosen.
Challenge 3: Examination Opportunities
The final major challenge presents itself due to the timings of the exams. Students will have two opportunities to sit the exam, once in January and again in June. Students who do not pass in January will have the opportunity to resit in the June. This presupposes that students will be ready to sit the exam in January, roughly half way through the academic year.
This makes structuring the unit delivery equally challenging. Will schools and colleges aim to cover all of the information in half a year, or will they prioritise some content over other content? This may impact on the students’ progression onto higher education courses, where they would need a working knowledge of all of the topics outlined in the unit specification.
A Wider Problem for Further Education Colleges
These problems are likely to be amplified in a college environment, especially if students attend college on a day-release basis. Put yourself in a learner’s shoes and imagine studying once a week for 30 or more weeks and being expected to recall knowledge from week 1 for an exam that might be sat 35 weeks later!
It is easy to direct the responsibility at the student and say that they should be doing work in their own time, but is this being facilitated? Is it reasonable to expect an employed learner to direct their own study when they are working full-time alongside college? Will they even know where their strengths and weaknesses lie?
So what are the solutions? What alternatively are there for delivering this unit?
Solution 1: The Integrated Approach
One option is an integrated approach, where classroom delivery is supplemented by self-study. Teachers could set regular homework which is checked rigorously and this could be used to inform what each student needs to work on to improve. Ideally each student’s self-study work should be differentiated according to their needs, but this could be both time consuming and difficult to implement.
This is where online Engineering courses may help. Some include video tutorials and self-assessment practice questions for a range of engineering topics. Coding is often used to ensure that students who reattempt practice questions do not receive identical questions.
Solution 2: The Holistic Approach
An alternative to the integrated approach would be to use online courses both in and out of the classroom. Many online courses have been carefully prepared to support and challenge the students. There are often facilities in place for monitoring learner progress throughout the course and this can sometimes be done in ‘real-time’. Students could work independently, with limited supervision and could all progress at their own pace and according to their own learning needs.