PBL and collaborative knowledge building in Engineering Education
Paper i proceeding, 2009
In this position paper the author reviews a decade of professional development for engineering educators at Chalmers University and argues the case for Problem based learning (PBL) as an effective means of building collaborative knowledge in the area of pedagogy. The author defines PBL and explains why the intended outcomes, teaching and learning methods and assessment used in Chalmers pedagogical course fit the PBL model. In doing so he focuses on three key courses. A basic module on teaching, learning and evaluation; a course in which teachers carry out a pedagogical project over one academic year; and a module on research supervision. These current modules are contrasted with earlier ones that were inspired by phenomenographical research. The author uses course evaluations to argue for the greater efficacy of the PBL approach. The paper raises a number of important questions. For example it argues that considerable damage can be done in academic development when those who design and take pedagogical courses become dogmatic about their educational research approach. In discussing this question the paper refers to the concept of academic tribes, how they are formed and how they are sustained. It also raises the question of how best to connect research and teaching. The paper concludes by advocating a pragmatic approach to educational development, especially for engineers. Instead of beginning with theory and the assumption that tricks and tips are anathema in educational development the paper argues that courses for university lecturers should begin with their issues and problems and via carefully planned teaching and learning methods allow teachers to build collaborative knowledge about the subject. In this way teachers can begin to build their own theories, theories that are all the more potent because they are developed within the teachers own context.