Challenges in implementing PBL: Chalmers Formula Student as a case
Paper in proceedings, 2015
Over the past two decades, we have witnessed several worldwide calls for reform in engineering education. Despite these calls there is still a significant gap between educational research and practice . Previous research has demonstrated that faculty are aware of student-centred teaching methods, believe in them and try them out, but find it difficult to deal with unexpected issues that arise and thus often return to more traditional teaching methods . It is therefore important to identify, describe and deal with different types of challenges or barriers that have a direct bearing on educational development.
In this paper, we use a case-study approach to identify and describe key challenges in relation to implementing project- and problem-based learning (PBL) in engineering education. Based on the first author’s experiences of running and developing the PBL course Chalmers Formula Student over six years, we give a thick description of challenges in connection to running a large multi-disciplinary Design-Build-Test, DBT, project. We also describe how these challenges have been addressed over the years. As a theoretical lens for identifying and describing these challenges, we draw on an extended constructive alignment framework .
The challenges we identified do not only concern student learning or course design, but also the organisation of the course within the university and of the teacher team, different levels of communication: multicultural and cross-disciplinary within the teams, as well as external communication between the teacher team and the university, industry and society. Further challenges comprise the recruitment and composition of teams consisting of students with different skills as well as providing possibilities for the student teams to develop ownership of the project. It is also a challenge to run an industrial project and course in parallel, manifested here in the “two-hats” issue for the person acting as examiner and project manager.
Some of these challenges we identified in a workshop discussing challenges with PBL courses, held by the authors at the international CDIO conference 2014 and attended by a broad spectre of teachers. The challenges discussed mainly concern course design, organisation, activities and especially assessment, which are the obvious and most important challenges when first implementing PBL methods. After some time managing a PBL course, this is especially true for large DBT projects, the full scope of challenges will unveil.
These different challenges highlight the complexity of implementing PBL courses in engineering education and point to the importance of providing faculty with adequate support.