Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Reinforcing Skills and Building Student Confidence through a Multicultural Project-Based Learning Experience

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Reinforcing Skills and Building Student Confidence through a Multicultural Project-Based Learning Experience

Article excerpt


In 2011 a group of 20 Canadian students from the Schulich School of Engineering (SSE) and 20 Chinese students from Shantou University (STU) participated in a four-week course on renewable energy at STU. The project-based learning (PjBL) experience consisted of four build-test activities performed by mixed groups of SSE and STU students (further details on the course are provided in Hugo et al (2009; 2011)).

At the beginning and end of the course, students were required to complete a 38-question self-efficacy survey that focused on the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board's (CEAB) 12 graduate attributes (CEAB, 2010). Self-efficacy is defined as "the belief in one's capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations" (Bandura, 1995). In this case, students were asked to indicate how confident they were in their ability, at the time of the survey, to perform a variety of activities related to the CEAB's 12 graduate attributes: ie. each graduate attribute was associated with 3 to 4 survey questions.

The intention of the study was not to determine student achievement of the course's learning outcomes (this was accomplished by standard classroom assessment techniques), but instead to determine if the PjBL course had a positive impact on student self-efficacy. Bandura (1994) noted that "the most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences". In the domain of engineering education, Carberry et al (2010) noted that "the effect of self-efficacy on learning can be more pronounced because of the frequent uses of design tasks as part of an engineering learning experience"; they went on to show that student motivation towards engineering design relates to higher levels of self-efficacy. Given this link between student self-efficacy and "mastery experiences" in engineering learning, it follows that self-efficacy can serve as a useful measure of whether or not a course has provided an authentic engineering experience for students, and in particular, if the course is successfully motivating students to learn. Our hope was that the build-test experiences would reinforce the students' mastery of fundamental engineering skills while building their confidence as active participants in team-based projects.

This paper begins with background on student self-efficacy in engineering education and an overview of the research methods used to conduct the study. Next, we present the results of the surveys conducted at the start and end of the course at STU in 2011. We conclude with a brief discussion of our interpretation of the results along with future plans in this area.


There has been considerable interest in the role of self-efficacy in engineering education in recent years (Ponton et al, 2001), and in particular, in its role as a mediating factor in cognitive motivation (Marra et al, 2009). As noted previously, self-efficacy refers to one's self-judgement with respect to capability. More specifically, Bandura (1995) identified four main sources of self-efficacy: (i) mastery experiences; (ii) social or verbal persuasion; (iii) vicarious experiences; and (iv) physiological states.

Mastery experiences relate to past performances when completing a particular project or course. Ideally, self-efficacy is promoted through positive past experiences when completing a task; however, it should be noted that self-efficacy relates to the student's self-judgement of her/his performance, and as a result, there may be differences between actual competency and self-efficacy (Besterfield-Sacre et al, 2001).

Self-efficacy can also be generated from the influence of others via social or verbal persuasion. This may be in the form of overt, verbal praise (eg. when important referents tells a student that she/he is capable) or in a social context where, for example, the student feels that her/his contribution towards a particular task is valued by the team. …

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