Project introduction and background information
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, collaborated to create a joint (CBL) challenge-based learning course.
The present project (2021-2023) 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 multidisciplinary teamwork of AP and ME students in the context of a CBL course.
In TU/e’s educational vision towards 2030, 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. One of the remarkable features of a CBL environment is ‘multidisciplinarity’: 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 and suggesting educational strategies focusing on multidisciplinarity.
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). 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’. The aim of this proposal is to transform this seeming hurdle into an advantage that creates additional value for all students and their learning.
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.
Objective and expected outcomes
‘3BYX0P - The CBL Systems and Control Project’ 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). This research project in its first and second year addressed the following research questions in the context of this nine-weeks course:
‘what are the facilitators and barriers influencing collaboration and teamwork between second-year AP and ME students in a CBL course?’
‘what are the student learning outcomes connected to working in the multidisciplinary teams?’
‘how did AP and ME students’ disciplinary competences and experiences interact during teamwork and to what degree?’ and
‘in what ways did the students perceive the course as useful?’
Data included interviews, reflection reports, student journals, observations, and design posters of student teams.
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, optimizing multidisciplinarity in learning through CBL.
Results and learnings
The practical and scientific output of this research are suggestions for improvement of the course under investigation and for similar CBL and/or project-based courses. The findings yielded, for example, individual (e.g. knowledge of control theory, student motivation), team (e.g. disciplinary perspectives), and course factors (e.g. tutor guidance, disciplinary connections to the challenge) to influenced multidisciplinary teamwork in the context of a CBL course. Findings also indicated knowledge acquisition, application, and an awareness of other disciplinary approaches as the learning outcomes with some differences for engineering and physics students. Another positive finding is that physics and engineering students’ unique ways of thinking and approaching problems was a significant facilitator of teamwork.
The study provides an example for fostering multidisciplinary teamwork experiences in a CBL course. Future studies can include students who are not selected based on shown motivation and students of upper grade levels.
Dissemination has been taking place though conferences and online platforms, such as CEE conference and websites, and also by making contribution to departmental education days.
Our actions for dissemination include:
· conference presentation; the 50th SEFI Annual Conference, September 19-22, 2022, Barcelona, Spain,
· conference presentation; EARLI SIG 6&7 meeting, August 22-24 2022, Zollikofen, Switzerland,
· conference presentation; NARST International Conference, March 27-30, 2022, Vancouver, Canada,
· conference presentation; the 49th SEFI Annual Conference, September 13-16, 2021, Technical University Berlin (virtual),
· 4TU reports
· poster presentation at the InnoXchange event of the Innovation Space, TU/e, June 2022,
· presentation of part of the project findings at the Eindhoven School of Education Colloquium Series,
· articles to be published in peer-reviewed journals.