Since the principles of project-based learning first emerged, there has been an increase in its use in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Project based-learning is a phrase used to describe a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. By utilising this method, students can grapple with real-world challenges in real-world situations in a safe and supported environment, whilst gaining the opportunity to develop professional skills that employers value most.

This is no more imperative than in engineering, a sector calling for individuals with strong critical thinking skills, an understanding of complex systems and an awareness of the need for lifelong learning, as the industry adapts to an evolving environment. To ensure engineers are serving all people and the planet, it is crucial they understand their social responsibility, considering the economic, social and environmental context they are working in, challenging their own thinking and the decisions they make along the way.

Here at Engineers Without Borders UK, we are advocates for project-based learning, embedding it into our Design Challenges featured in the curriculum of over 40 universities. To support academics in delivering this innovative teaching pedagogy, we run workshops and provide ongoing support to ensure they feel equipped for the year ahead.

“For those new to project-based teaching approaches, the Engineering for People Design Challenge provides an accessible framework that makes course design or redesign less daunting. You are scaffolded by a range of incredible resources, from the Design Brief and online information resources, to the academic community that you join. This is invaluable – particularly for early career academics learning to navigate their new roles.”
Dr Jennifer Roberts, University of Strathclyde

The increased use of project-based learning, could be attributed to many different factors:

Student engagement: Trends show that students tend to have higher levels of engagement as the relevance of what they are studying is immediately apparent. In addition, it challenges students to direct their own learning because projects are open ended, requiring them to critically evaluate multiple solutions and justify their decisions; requiring a higher degree of thinking.

Employability: Employers have highlighted complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence as some of the key skills they are looking for in new hires. Project-based learning is an effective way of allowing students to gain these skills and provides a clear example of how to demonstrate these skills in practice .

Improved academic performance: Many educators who have used project-based learning in their own teaching have reported improved academic performance from their students. Activities are used to promote self-discovery and develop problem-identifying and problem-solving skills, which can often lead to the student developing a much deeper understanding.

Increased creativity: As project-based learning is largely student-directed it allows free reign over the direction the project takes, encouraging students to explore  alternative methods  they may have not considered through conventional teaching.

Improved student experience: When done well, project-based learning yields a better experience for students than traditional instruction. Integrating project-based learning into remote or online learning can help students stay connected and engaged. Tips for facilitating project-based learning online include but are not limited to: being mindful of the variety of devices students are working from, highlighting video conferencing software to aid team working and providing opportunity for ongoing feedback to encourage reflection.

Now more than ever, it is critical to prepare our future engineers for the challenges that lie ahead. We require a curriculum that reflects the complexities of engineering, providing space to comprehend real-world challenges before being given the responsibility of changing the way people live. Project-based learning, whether delivered online or in person, provides engineering students a safe place to gain a deep understanding of their impact and practice fundamental skills that are essential to the profession. Learn more about our Design Challenges which use project based learning or contact us at [email protected] to sign up for 2020/21 delivery.