An Elective Course-Based Model for the Change of Traditional Engineering Curriculum Towards PBL in a Chinese University

An Elective Course-Based Model for the Change of Traditional Engineering Curriculum Towards PBL in a Chinese University

Xufang Zhang (Northeastern University, China)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9961-6.ch007

Abstract

The chapter presents two PBL models for the change of traditional engineering curriculum based on traditional courses across colleges at the Northeastern University in China. A particular focus of the PBL model design is about interdisciplinarity. In this regard, the E2-iPBL model is developed based on general and major elective courses offered across many disciplines, whereas the JD-iPBL model is considered to develop PBL courses by further introducing compulsory major courses for a joint-degree training program. For practical implementations within the traditional engineering curriculum background, the change of the teacher's role for student-centered constructive learning is briefly summarized. Possible realizations and simple cases are illustrated. Finally, a comparative study of the E2-iPBL and JD-iPBL models is outlined.
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Basic Theories About The Pbl

This PBL course at AUU is organized with nine thematic workshops and many observational activities of lectures and examinations in the Civil Engineering department of the Aalborg University. At first, the PBL theory courses mainly focus on PBL model, approaches, the design of PBL problem, collaboration and project management techniques, the course and curriculum design, facilitation and teacher roles in the PBL, assessment for different learning goals, and the management of change at course and institutional levels. Therefore, by providing basic knowledge and understand of student-centered learning methodologies and PBL related theories, techniques and required skills, learning goals of the PBL course are to: (a) Understand active learning methodologies, in particular problem- and project-based learning; (b) Understand curriculum design and management; (c) Understand and experience PBL as a learning process and the learning of PBL skills; (d) plan an implementation of the designed curriculum/course change.

A teaching portfolio is a tool for personal reflection and development for professional teaching skills. The reflection is normally following the Kolb’s cycle “experience- reflect - generalize - actively experiment – new experience”. Materials within the teaching portfolio are based on personal teaching practices and experiences that are towards teaching professional development. Especially, key elements in the Kolb’s cycle can be realized as (a) Experience: what have been experiencing in teaching. Related materials are the teaching philosophy, teaching material, and teaching strategies; (b) Reflect is used to answer the questions of what is good about your teaching, what the main challenges, which teaching strategies work and don’t work; (c) Generalize refers to why things go as they did, and why challenges are challenges, why did the strategies work and did not work; (d) In the stage of the active experiment, you need to answer questions of: what you can use to improve your teaching, what can you use to design your teaching implementation, and how can it be used and when.

Generally, basic theories about learning consist of the behaviorism, the cognitivism, and social constructivism learning theories. In the behaviorism leaning, all things that organisms do including acting, thinking and feeling are regarded as behaviors. To change behaviors, the environments are modified, or behavioral patterns are changed. In this regard, the behaviorism assumes that a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli. Besides, a learner starts with a clean slate, and behavior is shaped by positive and negative reinforcement. Therefore, reinforcement, positive or negative, increases the possibility of an event happening again, whereas punishment, both positive and negative, decreases the possibility of an event happening again.

The constructivism is a philosophical position that views knowledge as the outcome of experience mediated by one’s own prior knowledge and the experience of others. Under this theory, teachers must help the learner get to his or her understanding of content. As teachers, we must take on more of a facilitator’s role than that of a teacher. A comparison for behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism learning theories is listed in Table 1.

Table 1.
Comparative studies of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism learning theories
BehaviorismCognitivismConstructivism
Focuswhat the learner does; proper response to a given stimulus (observable)how the learner organizes new information within the preexisting schema (internal)how the learner interprets the new information and applies to their reality (meaning constantly evolves)
Learnerreactiveproactiveproactive
Type of learningbasic definitions and explanation of concepts; generalization, recallhigher-level reasoning and information processing;
emphasis on memory, organization
higher-level problem solving and critical analysis;
emphasis on real-word scenarios
Examplespre-tests, comprehension checks; facilitate learning through assessments that allow practice, repetitioncorrective feedback, learning strategies like analogy, metaphor, concept mapping; remove irrelevant informationapprenticeships, clinics, collaborative learning;
encourage the application of new knowledge in a variety of contexts and perspectives

(From Prof. Chunfang Zhou and Aida Guerra slides on Workshop 2)

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