Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Innovative problem-oriented pedagogies in engineering education: Conceptualizations and management of tensions
by van Barneveld, Evangelia, Ph.D., Purdue University, 2011, 222; 3506067
Abstract (Summary)

The demands on engineering educators are high and they are being challenged to create learning environments that not only teach technical skills better, but also incorporate process skills and foster other graduate attributes. Problem-based learning (and its variants) has been deemed to meet the needs of educators and society in preparing the engineers of the 21st century. But with pedagogical innovations like PBL, comfortable routines related to the structure and flow of classroom activity are disrupted for both educators and students. In addition to having to manage changes within their classroom processes and routines, engineering educators must also interact and operate within the larger systems in which their classrooms are embedded, the university. The structure and culture of the university system may facilitate or hinder the teaching intentions and goals of educators, as this larger system can impose its own set of tensions.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore and describe the variation in engineering educators' ways of experiencing tensions in PBL implementations, as well as how they managed the tensions. In the specific context of the first two years of undergraduate engineering education, the research questions were (1) based on their teaching practices, what are the predominant tensions encountered by engineering educators? (2) What are the qualitatively different ways in which engineering educators experience tensions with a PBL implementation in their teaching practices? (3) How do engineering educators manage these tensions?

The methodology used was phenomenography, a research framework that focuses on the relationship between a phenomenon and people's conception of the phenomenon.

Data were collected through an online survey. The survey served as a sampling strategy and respondents who met inclusion criteria were invited to participate in semi-structured interviews. The population was engineering educators in the United States who were implementing problem-based learning (PBL), and all its variants (i.e., project-based learning) within their engineering teaching practice. The sample of survey respondents was 313, while the sample for interviews was 14.

This study was informed by activity theory as the theoretical lens. It provided this author with the language to describe the embedded nature of the activity systems in which engineering educators found themselves with their implementations and management of an active learning approach (PBL) in a traditionally subject-centered, lecture-based hierarchical engineering education culture.

Results revealed that the predominant tensions encountered by these engineering educators in this study were the students' initial discomfort with the transition to PBL, the educators' role as instructor versus facilitator, and the individual versus the organizational value assigned to teaching. Tensions related to the students' initial discomfort with the transition to PBL were addressed by managing expectations and aligning learning activities with the learner level. Tensions related to the educators' role as instructor versus facilitator were managed by shifting the relationship between the content, the student, and the instructor, and optimizing the use of the instructor during class time. Finally, tensions of depth versus breadth of curriculum were managed by making adjustments to the learning environment, to the content, and to the use of instructor and class time. Implications, limitations, and future research are discussed.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Strobel, Johannes
Commitee: Ertmer, Peggy A., Light, Gregory, Schaffer, Scott P.
School: Purdue University
Department: Curriculum and Instruction
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 73/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Instructional Design, Educational technology, Vocational education
Keywords: Engineering education, Innovative pedagogy, Problem-based learning, Project-based learning
Publication Number: 3506067
ISBN: 9781267311573
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