Problem-Based Learning in Engineering Education

Teoh Kok-Soo
December 8, 2005. Monash Clayton December 9, 2005. Monash Gippsland
A campus of Monash University

• Modern engineering activities
– conducted in multi-disciplinary & team settings – high interaction among team members

• Engineers need to acquire early both technical knowledge & non-technical skills

• In the global competitive environment, many organisations do not
– invest sufficient time & resources to

provide full training program for new recruits – wait for the much-needed skills to be developed on the job

• Studies from USA*, Canada^ and Germany showed that: employers of engineering graduates are looking for candidates that possess engineering knowledge and essential engineering and soft skills.
communications skills problem solving skills teamwork skills interpersonal skills leadership skills conceptual skills

*Report on surveys of opinion of engineering deans and employers of engineering graduates on the first professional degree. NSPE (1992). ^Canada (1997), Germany (1995)

• However, these essential soft skills are still lacking among engineering graduates • Engineering curriculum lacks soft skills development • Students lack
– practical experiences while in university – exposure to industrial work and needs

Engineering Profession
• A subject unit in 1st year engineering program • Developed to overcome two perceived problems of new engineering students
(a) lack of understanding of what engineers actually do, and (b) lack of understanding of the environment in which engineers work and interact with the community

Engineering Profession
• Introduces a wide range of engineering disciplines • Focuses on the role and needs of the engineer in today’s and tomorrow’s world • Common Level 1 elective unit • 6 credits points, 13 weeks • Offer in both semesters in Malaysian campus

Unit Objective
• To develop student’s understanding of the scope of engineering, including emphasis on its breadth, interactions and linkages with other disciplines • Uses problem-based learning (PBL) to introduce engineering to students

Unit Delivery
• In Malaysian campus, actual industrial engineering problems/projects and project tendering process are used to demonstrate,
a) b) c) d) the scope of engineering client-tenderer relationships inter-disciplines nature of engineering work professional decision-making process

Unit Content & Assessment
• • • • • • Lectures, tutorials, workshops Problem/project, group work Project discussion sessions Project site visit Guest lecture by industry expert/partner Assessment
– Project 70% (continuous assessment) – Final Exam. 30%

• Competition - Best Design Awards

Lecture Topics
• • • • • • • • • System approach Engineering Economics, Management Project Tender & Process Product Life Cycle Assessment Sustainable Development Quality, Safety Analysis Technical Drawing, CAD, 3D modeling Communication Skills Professional Ethics

• Project & people management concepts and communications skills are developed through
– group work and activities – interviewing & oral presentations – project progress reports

• Self-directed learning are promoted through group work in problem-based learning

Project group and activities
• Group of 4 with mixed gender and nationality • Work through the industrial project in 4 phases, taking on different roles • Students act as the client then as tenderer in a simulated engineering project tender process

4 Phases of Assigned Project
• Phase 1: Project Brief
– – – – – – – Act as Client Guest lecture by industry partner/consultant Poster presentation Project specifications report Letter of invitation to project tender Project Briefing presentation Lectures: System Approach, Group Work, Management, Communication Techniques

4 Phases of Assigned Project
Emphasis in Phase 1:
(a) students’ understanding of the specific problems

and identify real needs of the project given (b) appreciation of the principles of system approach (c) identification of project boundary, constraints, systems, components, and their interaction (d) importance of group work, project and people management in engineering practices

4 Phases of Assigned Project
• Phase 2: Two Alternative Designs
– – – – Act as a potential tenderer Develop 2 conceptual designs Site visit with industry experts’ inputs Information sourcing, drawings & sketching, oral & written presentations – Lectures: Technical Sketching, 3D Modeling, Project Tender, Economics, Library Skills

4 Phases of Assigned Project
Emphasis in Phase 2:
(a) students’ ability in searching information from

various sources including the use of library & the internet (b) multiples solutions to a given problem (c) ability to meet project specifications, in problem solving, and to develop creative & innovative solutions (d) ability to translate ideas and solutions into drawings & sketches, and to express them in written reports

4 Phases of Assigned Project
• Phase 3: Preferred Solution
– Act as a potential tenderer – Develop an assessment scheme for the selection process, with indication of criteria used, reasons for chosen criteria – Evaluate designs, select a preferred solution with justifications – Lectures: Life Cycle Assessment, Safety, Sustainability

4 Phases of Assigned Project
Emphasis in Phase 3:
(a) students’ approaches and their abilities in

developing a transparent and objective evaluation process (b) ability to evaluate designs based on key criteria which reflects the real world needs (c) the importance of professional ethics whilst working for a client (d) professional decision-making process

4 Phases of Assigned Project
• Phase 4: Final Solution
– Act as a short-listed tenderer – Propose final solutions with consideration of major issues; quality, sustainability, safety, payback period, environmental impact – Group presentations – Group interviewing session – Lectures: Professional Ethics, Quality

4 Phases of Assigned Project
Emphasis in Phase 4:
(a) approaches in proposed solutions (b) ability in technical writing (c) group oral presentation skills (d) interviewing skills (e) students’ appreciation on how knowledge is

applied in practice

Students exposure to industrial projects
• The use of industrial projects with inputs from industry partners assists student-learning by,
– demonstrating the inter-disciplines nature of engineering works, – enhancing the realism in engineering environment and activities in the course, and – providing a good exposure to students to actual industrial work and needs.

Students exposure to industrial projects
• Past industrial projects
– – – – – – – Extension of a private medical center A modern petrol station Renovation of Kuala Lumpur Bird Park New Campus of Monash University Malaysia Double tracking railway lines from Rawang to Ipoh Tambun’s Lost World Theme Park Kuala Lumpur Convention Center

Project – Double Tracking Railway Line
Double Tracking Railway Line Start Date: Jan 2000 Completion: Dec 2004 Scope of work Design & construction of double-tracking a 178 km of railway line, from Rawang to Ipoh - 8 new stations - 1 freight depot - 78 railway bridges - 20 road over rail bridges - 300 culverts Cost: RM2.6 billions

Project – Lost World Theme Park
Tambun’s Lost World Theme Park Design and construction of a theme park in Tambun on a 14.6 ha land Scope of work - 600m man-made river - Artificial waterfalls & lakes - Restaurants & café - Water rides - Tube slides Cost: RM 60 millions

Project – Lost World Theme Park

Project – Renovation of K.L. Bird park
K.L. Bird Park World largest covered walk-in free flight aviary 20.9 acres valley terrain 3000 birds 130 species

Scope of work - Waterfalls - Restaurants - Permanent Cages - Open-air café

Project – Renovation of K.L. Bird park

Project – Renovation of K.L. Bird Park

Layout plan of an Open Air Café

Project Assessment
• • • • • • • • Individual assignments Group reports Individual oral presentations Group oral presentations Project logbook Peer assessment – 70:30 Competition – group presentation Panel of assessors

• Problems
– – – – – – – Big challenge to 1st year students New learning method Learning curve is steep Culture & language diversities, group conflicts Project assessment Heavy workload for students & staff Suitable project with industry supports

• Outcomes of PBL using industrial projects
– Gain an appreciation of specific industry business and their operations – Gain an understanding of the needs of the client/tenderer, the community, the environments – Gain an understanding of the scope of interdisciplinary engineering activities, group works & professional ethics – Develop knowledge of professional engineering skills and essential soft skills


Has this been a good teaching and learning experience for engineering education?

Feedbacks from students
“This unit has given me a glimpse of the working world, what a professional engineer would be required to do, and I truly appreciate all that it has taught me”
Tan W.Y. (Local)

“ … now I feel every thing is easy if only you know how to organise your mind’s plan” Zohreh Mohammadi (Int) “It introduces a whole new learning experience, which enables one to exercise skills and knowledge with hands-on experience” Ng A.S. (Local)

Feedbacks from students
“Initially I found this lecturing concept very new and strange to me. I thought I had made a wrong choice and would regret for the whole semester. I was wrong! The teaching approach is very interesting and I learnt a lot. It has thought me to think in a different perspective”
Hu Sxe Yi (Int)

“What I have learned in the last 13 weeks was not something that I could have found in a book. It was an experience to remember.The unit has brought out the best in me and I realise just what I was really capable of.”
Nicksham Cooray (Int)

Feedbacks from industry partner
In her speech, Dr. Chong SuLin, CEO of Sunway Medical Center praised the finalists for their excellent presentation, the quality of work that went into the designs and their attention to details.

“I didn’t expect the students to come up with such high-quality work and excellent presentation. The inputs we gained from this presentation will be valuable in helping us design the new extension building for the hospital next year. Some of the ideas presented by the students will be included in our brainstorming session when finalising the design for the hospital’s extension project.”

• PBL using industrial project is an effective learning method for engineering students • Improved students’ attitudes & motivation to study engineering • Overcome problems
– – – – – Good preparation and project Classroom management Manage group dynamics Understand differences in students’ backgrounds Good facilitator and counselor

Problem-Based Learning in Engineering Education

Thank you
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
John Dewey (1859-1952) American Philosophy, Psychologist, Reformed Educationist

Dr Teoh Kok-Soo
School of Engineering

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