Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Learning and Teaching Style Assessment for Improving Project-Based Learning of Engineering Students: A Case of United Arab Emirates University

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Learning and Teaching Style Assessment for Improving Project-Based Learning of Engineering Students: A Case of United Arab Emirates University

Article excerpt

1 INTRODUCTION

University teaching requires the emergence and development of teaching methods consistent with the learning techniques of students (Ewell, 1997). Several teaching and learning approaches have been trialled, practiced and modified over the years. These techniques can be grouped into traditional and modern methods. Traditional teaching methods involve conventional lectures followed by tutorial and/or laboratory sessions, predominantly in isolated time segments (Nepal & Jenkins, 2011). A direct flow of information from academic staff to students is the central view of the traditional approach. Students are considered cognitively active, but physically inactive (except for taking notes). According to Cangelosi (2003), most students cannot maintain such attention and behaviour for a long period of time. The method lacks sufficient interactions between the students and the academic staff and among students, and considers students as passive learners (Nepal & Jenkins, 2011; Steinhorst & Keeler, 1995).

The modern teaching methods are cognitive science based and they encourage students to construct knowledge rather than taking it in as it is disseminated (Cross, 1998; 1999). The modern method involves contemporary teaching and learning practices using project- and problem-based learning, work integrated learning, and integrated learning approaches. Students are encouraged to use real world concepts, tools, experiences and technologies; they work in groups to identify, acquire and share knowledge to solve real problems. Among modern methods, project-based learning (PBL) is acknowledged as a collaborative, progressive, student-centred, interactive, active and deep learning approach, particularly for engineering education (Nepal & Jenkins, 2011). Benefits of the PBL approach in engineering education have been described in several previous studies (Mills et al, 2005; Nepal & Jenkins, 2011; Perrenet et al, 2003; Gibson, 2003; Mills & Treagust, 2003; Ribeiro & Mizukami, 2005). The PBL approach is considered to promote active and deep learning through engaging students in a real world issue in a collaborative environment. The goal of a PBL approach is to expose students to experiential learning. Problem solving skill is essential for the engineering students; therefore, students need to be exposed to real world problems (Helle et al, 2006). The driving question or problem helps students to drive activities in creating the final product that addresses the questions (Blumenfeld et al, 1991).

Both the traditional and modern PBL approaches possess both merits and demerits. Some engineering students dislike a PBL approach as they need to adopt a self-directed learning strategy to complete often unclear and open-ended tasks. Their individual learning styles and needs may be different from the team learning needs. Challenges involved in implementing successful PBL are related to time and effort, academic staff's content knowledge and lack of experience from academic staff and students as well as the need to develop specialised material for off-campus study (Yam & Rossini, 2010). Nepal & Stewart (2010) and Nepal & Panuwatwanich (2011) reported that in some cases, students evaluate the PBL approach lower than the traditional approach in spite of their improved learning and course performance. Academic institutions often hesitate to embrace a PBL approach because it is resource intensive (Nepal & Jenkins, 2011). Academic staff play important roles in the implementation of PBL approach through motivating students and creating a classroom environment favourable for students' learning (Yam & Burger, 2009). Collaboration among the students, academic staff and community is important so that knowledge can be shared and distributed among the stakeholders. Knowledge of students' learning styles and academic staff's teaching styles is therefore significantly important for developing successful PBL in engineering education. …

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