Life on the Edge: How Project Based Learning Affects Undergraduates Engineering Education
Dr. Stephen C. Scogin
Recently, there has been a surge in project-based learning (PBL) as a method to engage and inspire students in the classroom (Sundberg, Armstrong, & Wischusen, 2005). One newly implemented PBL experience at Hope College is the entry-level EDGE engineering course. EDGE focuses on challenging engineering students in an authentic design project during their first year at Hope. This course is unique in that the scaffolding guides students through the design process as they construct products for real-world customers. This study focused on discovering how students responded to this PBL experience. Personal reflections completed at the end of the course were collected from 84 students over the first two years of the EDGE project. These reflections were qualitatively analyzed using grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Using Strauss and Corbin’s (1990) paradigm model, a conceptual model was developed to explain how this course affected students’ perception of engineering. Emergent themes centered on students confronting the question: Is engineering for me? The unique structure of the course and the customer focus provided an authentic context for students to realize what a career in engineering would be like. Evidence suggests some students in the course gained valuable career insight, increased confidence, and enhanced communication skills. This study provides evidence that PBL can successfully develop the soft skills (i.e., non-cognitive skills) necessary for career success (The Engineer of 2020, 2004). In addition, the results of this study inform future efforts to structure PBL courses.
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