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The use of project based learning in engineering fundamentals


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This paper will explore the initial use of Project-Based Learning (PBL) in a first year Diploma module in Engineering Fundamentals. The module consists of a number of key concepts that align with later modules within the Diploma, for example, Stress and Strain; Kinematics; and Heat and Temperature. The module runs the length of the semester and uses student centred activities to explore these key concepts. The students in this compulsory module are from the Mechanical, Civil and Electrical disciplines, they range in age and in their prior knowledge and experience. PBL was incorporated into the module to allow students to explore and further underpin some of these fundamental concepts, and to provide them with the practical skills needed as engineers working in the real world.

Thomas (2000) stressed that PBL had to be realistic, student driven and central to the curriculum. In this application of PBL the tutors provided the students with a project which had to be completed by the end of the semester. The project scenario required that the work be undertaken by consultancy groups made up of 6 or more students (decided by the tutors). The scenario was such that it would require the groups to consist of engineers from the three disciplines. The students had to identify the major outputs, allocate roles and tasks and manage their time to ensure that they successfully accomplished the project.

The purpose of this study was to explore whether the initial use of PBL within the module provided students with further opportunities to support their learning and to promote engagement with the fundamental concepts of engineering.

A process of data gathering was structured around the running of ‘Project Sessions’. These sessions ran every two weeks over a semester of fifteen teaching weeks. Data was collected, using in-class surveys, at the start of the semester, and at various times during the semester to try and determine whether there was a shift in thinking from the start of the project to the end. This data was supplemented by informal feedback, student assessment and end of semester marks.

In answer to the question ‘Do you think including the project in this module will improve your learning?’ 87% of the respondents to the initial questionnaire responded positively. Typical student comments include “Yes I enjoy the hands on learning as well as in class. It reinforces my bookwork and helps me remember” and “It helps us improve our teamwork skills, also real practical projects for us to have our skills in our specific fields”.
Some of the more negative aspects of the students’ comments tend to come from those who are not happy with group work, for example “I think project work will help me to learn but I am unsure about the group aspect…If it is a bad group there is a chance it could become harder for someone who is not confident already”.

The data so far shows that the inclusion of PBL into the module has been useful for the students’ learning. There is also evidence to suggest that engagement with key topics has also improved.

Item Type: Journal article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Project Based Learning, Student Centred Learning
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
T Technology > T Technology (General)
Divisions: Schools > Centre for Engineering and Industrial Design
Depositing User: Trudy Harris
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2015 20:27
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 03:31

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