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TU DelftTU EindhovenUniversity of TwenteWageningen University
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Project introduction and background information

Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) has been gaining quite some traction in higher education institutions these days. Within WUR itself, the team 'Wageningen Student Challenges' is in charge of organizing and running extra-curricular challenges like ReThink Protein and Urban Greenhouse Challenge. In addition, there are also challenges that are organized within the EWUU strategic alliance (between UU-UMCU-TU/e-WUR) such as the BITT, F4HS (Food for Health and Safety) and many more.

While there is much going on in the arena of challenges, CBL is still being understood differently. Based on contact with the other TUs in the Netherlands, we gathered that there are many definitions as to what a Challenge is; and from literature research, there is not yet a single, clear definition of what a challenge or CBL is about. In addition, within the WUR university curriculum, we also see many courses with elements that can also be considered as CBL (e.g., Academic Consultancy Training, European Workshop and other courses where students work in multidisciplinary teams on a real-life authentic case for an external commissioner).

Objective and expected outcomes

As challenge-based learning is a relatively new term being used in WUR, and because there are a number of initiatives and courses within the university that resembles CBL, before we look outwards to compare and learn from others, we felt the need to look inwards and investigate what CBL@WUR means. This investigation would also help contribute towards internal policy making on CBL.

The main objective of this project is to define what CBL means in the WUR context, and it was achieved with the following sub-objectives:

  • How stakeholders in WUR perceive and define challenge-based learning;
  • Identify the similarities/differences between extra-curricular challenges and in-curricular type of challenges (e.g. courses where students work in multi-disciplinary teams on a real-life authentic case from an external commissioner); and
  • Identify similarities/differences between extra-curricular challenges and other types of education that include elements like authenticity, interdisciplinarity and teamwork (e.g. entrepreneurship education, society-based education etc).

To investigate the above, a Delphi panel study was conducted with WUR colleagues involved in education that applies challenge-based learning or (of which we expect that it) somehow relates to challenge-based learning. The colleagues that participated in the Delphi panel study also have varying roles within challenges (e.g. teacher, coach, challenge/course coordinator, organizing/coordination team, members of steering/advisory committee, policy advisor etc.).

Results and learnings

The Delphi panel was conducted between May and November in 2021; there were 47 responses from the first round and 29 responses in the second round of the study.

The Delphi panel consisted of two rounds; the first round collected information on what panelists thought were characteristics, learning activities and learning outcomes of CBL, motivations for students participation and examples of CBL@WUR. The results from the first round were used as options in the second questionnaire, where panelists had to select options on what they thought were key characteristics of CBL, key learning outcomes and learning activities, and differences/similarities between in and extra-curricular CBL.

The Delphi panel study helped shed light into the key characteristics of CBL@WUR:

  1. The challenge is on a complex problem that does not have a right answer; multiple solutions are possible.
  2. CBL provides opportunities for students to develop their personal & professional skills
  3. Students work in multi-disciplinary groups.
  4. Coaches are available for individual, team and/or process support.
  5. The challenge is a real-life problem from an external client/commissioner.

It also showed what panelists thought were the differences between in- and extra-curricular CBL in general, but also in terms of learning outcomes and learning activities. Panelists also shared on the struggles with organizing and conducting challenges, but overall were still positive and motivated to do so because of the learning potential and learning gains for students. More information can be seen from the PowerPoint document under downloads.

Practical outcomes

The outcomes of the Delphi panel were presented at an internal lunch meeting, as well as at the 4TU.CEE webinar. The results have also been shared with colleagues who are working on developing a WUR vision on CBL.

While the project has ended, the project team is currently exploring what is the best way to transform the results into a practical tool that can be used by colleagues within the university that would like to do something with challenge-based learning. The research team is also currently working on a manuscript for publication.