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Project introduction and background information

Background

At TU/e the collaborative project of the departments Applied Physics (AP) and Mechanical Engineering (ME) which is entitled ‘3BYX0P – CBL Systems and control project’ was granted. In this project the two departments, AP and ME, collaborate to create a joint challenge-based course. Although the department of EE was also involved in the proposal, they stepped out of the project. Hence, the project plan has been revised; however, the content and the purpose of the project plan (as of January 2019) have not changed. 

The present project proposal is an accompanying research linked to CBL - Systems and Control project. This accompanying study focuses on multidisciplinary aspect of the course. This is a key point in the set-up of the project that requires in depth development, and it is of fundamental value for the development of CBL at TU/e. The aim of the project is to investigate whether the multidisciplinary aspect of the course can, indeed, improve what students learn. 

Introduction

In TU/e’s educational vision towards 2030, Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) plays a crucial role. Consequently, the renewal of bachelor education at TU/e has put focus on “educating the 'future proof' engineer: an engineer who not only now but also in the future can come up with technological solutions for challenges that arise in the world.” (TU/e, 2020). 

It has been reported that at TU/e an increasing number of students, both bachelor and master levels, are interested in CBL projects (TU/e, 2020). Learning through CBL requires a learning process where students are challenged with real-life and open-ended problems. Given that the problems that students deal with are different than the ones that were addressed in traditional courses, CBL calls for diverse ways of learning. It has been emphasized that one of the remarkable features of a learning environment in CBL is its ‘high diversity’: e.g. students from different disciplines, and stakeholders from various backgrounds and organizations collaborate to solve complex and open-ended problems.

The project participates in developing ‘promising practices’ that are relevant for developing CBL in general, through: underpinning, advising, and suggesting educational strategies focusing on multidisciplinarity regarding the development of knowledge and understanding.

Teachers and stakeholders have specified their questions in a previous meeting with the former applicant (R. Taconis). First, students from both departments find it challenging to learn new theory and, in addition, to directly apply it, particularly in an CBL environment (e.g. without lectures).

Second, students from the departments are found to differ in the following aspects: expectations about the course (some student may be sceptical), pre- knowledge and experimental skills, and (implicit) personal learning aims (as a result of differing aims on curriculum and program level). More specific (quote from adapted project plan AP&ME): “Control theory is completely new for Applied Physics students, while Mechanical Engineering students followed the course:4DB00 – Dynamics and Control of Mechanical systems earlier in their bachelor curriculum. The focus of Mechanical Engineering students has mainly been on the modeling of motion systems, while Applied Physics students have encountered a wider range of physical systems, such as optical and electromagnetic systems.”

A particular concern is student motivation in relation to their different expectations and pre knowledge. This relates to feeling challenged by the challenge’ and ‘experiencing ownership’ of the project and the (personal) learning process. In this respect, multidisciplinarity may at first glance be perceived as a ‘hurdle’. For example, if the project is experienced as ‘too easy (or difficult)’ or ‘unconnected to the curriculum’ by some of the students. The aim of this proposal is to transform this seeming hurdle into an advantage that creates additional value for all students and their learning.

The present study is an accompanying study connected to the bigger project on ‘CBL Systems and control’ where the two departments have been collaborating to design a joint CBL course. Collaborative learning of students from AP and ME departments creates a multidisciplinary learning environment in this course, and the course aims to develop promising practices with respect to CBL at TU/e. However, there is yet no research about how the multidisciplinary characteristic of a CBL learning environment influence students’ learning. Based on this, the current study aims to investigate how the multidisciplinary setting of ‘3BYX0P - CBL Systems and Control’ course affect students’ learning.

Objective and expected outcomes

Although there is an increasing number of projects about CBL at TU/e, to our knowledge the course ‘3BYX0P - The CBL systems and control project’ is the first CBL course that will be developed in collaboration with two departments. It is a new type of course that is accepted as an excellent opportunity to improve the education for bachelor students of both departments (AP &ME). In this course (3BYX0P), to advance student learning in multidisciplinary teams it is needed to study the multidisciplinary setting of the course and how this aspect of the course enhances students’ learning. 

For this purpose, this research project addresses the following research question:

How does the multidisciplinary aspect of the course affect student learning? 

The abovementioned research question gives rise to the following sub-questions:

a.     What are the perceptions and experiences of students about their learning in multidisciplinary teams in the context of the course 3BYX0P?

b.     What are the perceptions and experiences of the teaching team (including supervisors) about students’ learning in multidisciplinary teams in the context of the course 3BYX0P?

c.       What are the elements of multidisciplinary learning environment that foster student learning?

The answers to these questions help to develop insights into the effects of multidisciplinary aspect of the course on student learning, and to establish a relation between the multidisciplinary aspect of the course and deep learning and meaningful learning of the students. 

The findings of this project might provide useful insight into designing an effective multidisciplinary CBL course and using/choosing activities that foster students’ deep learning. 

Results and learnings

Research findings will provide insights into effective elements of a multidisciplinary learning environment; this will be useful in optimizing multidisciplinarity in learning through CBL. 

The practical output of this research are suggestions for improvement of this multidisciplinary course for systems & control. 

The scientific output of this research consists of knowledge on multidisciplinary aspect of CBL. The research delivers recommendations for learning in multidisciplinary teams in CBL. 

Dissemination

Dissemination will take place though presenting findings TU/e intern including a report. Guidelines and advise for teachers concerning interdisciplinary CBL projects will be formulated and shared. Moreover, findings will be disseminated at conferences and online platforms, such as CEE conference and websites, and also by making contribution to departmental education days. Articles for academic and professional journals will be written.