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Effective Integration of Problem Based Learning Produces Professional Engineers

Author Andrew Donnellan
Abstract Professional bodies require engineering programmes to deliver graduates with discipline specific knowledge and skills, as well as transferable 'softer' team, communication and lifelong learning skills, as defined in their accreditation handbooks. To deliver this spectrum of skills necessitates a paradigm shift in engineering education, as an exclusively traditional teacher driven approach to learning would not achieve these outcomes. The School of Engineering analysed the learning style preferences of students entering the school, discovering that the majority of students showed active, sensing, visual, and global preferences for learning. Motivated by the dual considerations of additional skills required by graduates and a suitable approach for the learning styles, it was decided to revise the software module in the penultimate year of an honours degree. Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach that emphasises a student centred learning experience rather than the traditional teacher driven educational experience, and was adopted as a suitable approach by the School of Engineering. This paper discusses how specific problems were designed to cover critical syllabus topics. The project and teams were designed as per best PBL practice. Conscious that assessment drives the learning experience, it was necessary to revise the assessment method. The paper discusses the guidelines given to the students, as well as the procedure for group selection. The paper shows how the PBL method improved the results as well as the level of understanding examined and demonstrated by the learners, as measured by benchmarking against the illustrative verbs for Bloom's Taxonomy's level of learning. The paper examines the learner's development of 'team' skills and discusses the challenges of this 'reflecting while doing' approach and how the learners and learning facilitator coped with this learner driven experience. It finally proposes further features to be incorporated to enhance future learning.
Keywords : Problem based learning, Learning Styles, Professional engineer
Published In ICEP Proceedings
Year 2008
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