Publication Details

Stappenbelt, B. & Rowles, C. (2009). Project based learning in the first year engineering curriculum. 20th Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference (AAEE 2009) (pp. 411-416). Adelaide, Australia: University of Adelaide.


This paper examines the implementation of a project-based learning approach in the first year engineering curriculum at the University of Western Australia (UWA). As part of this initiative, the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Challenge was employed as the focus of student activity within the core undergraduate unit Introduction to Professional Engineering. This unit is the foundation of the professional development component of the engineering degree at UWA. The EWB Challenge provided students with the opportunity to learn about professional engineering whilst contributing towards a real international development project. To create a successful project based learning environment, a comprehensive tutor training program was developed. A number of workshops and laboratory space for prototyping and experimental work were also provided for students. A cultural advisory panel, consisting of all Cambodian students enrolled at UWA, was assembled so that students could gain an appreciation of the cultural context of their work. Communication streaming for tutorials was also undertaken to provide appropriately targeted assistance to students. Student team formation was informed through the use of the Belbin team role inventory. The data collected through this survey tool demonstrated the considerable benefit of considering team role preferences when selecting teams. The project based learning approach adopted yielded significant improvement in student engagement with the material, depth of learning and the perception of the quality of the educational experience. The success of the UWA teams in the associated national EWB Challenge competition providing further testament to the quality of learning.

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