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Defining Challenge-Based Learning at WU

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) is a relatively new type of education that has gained increasing traction in higher education institutions. CBL at its core provides participants the opportunity to work on wicked societal problems in multidisciplinary teams, also together with societal stakeholders. At WUR, the team ‘Wageningen Student Challenges’ is in charge of organizing and running extra-curricular challenges, like the ReThink Protein and Urban Greenhouse Challenge. In addition, within the curriculum of WUR, there are courses with elements that can also be considered as challenges (e.g. Academic Consultancy Training, European Workshop). 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) challenge.

At universities and in literature, there is not yet a single, clear definition of what CBL is about. Therefore, we felt the need to first explore CBL at WUR and define what CBL means within our university. As a result, a project team (Cassandra Tho, Judith Gulikers, Renate Wesselink and Yvette Baggen) was formed to investigate what CBL means in the WUR context, explicitly addressing both extra-curricular and inter-curricular CBL. A Delphi panel study was conducted between May and October 2021 to determine what CBL@WUR means. The panelists were WUR colleagues involved in education that applies CBL or (of which we expect that it) somehow relates to CBL (e.g. entrepreneurship education). The panelists have varying roles within challenges in WUR (e.g. teacher, coach, challenge/course coordinator, organizing/coordination team, members of steering/advisory committee, policy advisor etc.).

The Delphi panel consisted of two rounds; in the first round we collected information on what panelists thought were characteristics, learning activities and learning outcomes of CBL, motivations for students’ participation and examples of CBL@WUR. Results from the first round were used as options in the second questionnaire, where panelists had to select what they perceived as 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 (top 5) 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; and
  5. The challenge is a real-life problem from an external client/commissioner.

The results showed what panelists thought were the differences between in- and extra-curricular CBL in general, and also in terms of learning outcomes and learning activities. Panelists shared their struggles with organizing and conducting challenges but were overall positive and motivated to do so because of the learning potential and learning gains for students. More results from the Delphi Panel can be found on the project page on the 4TU.CEE innovation map.

The project team is currently preparing a scientific article on the Delphi study and exploring what is the best way to transform the results into a practical tool that can be used by colleagues that would like to design and implement CBL. The results of the Delphi panel have also been shared at various moments –internally at lunch meetings and also with colleagues that are currently working on a vision document to guide the future of CBL@WUR and externally at the 4TU.CEE webinar on CBL design principles.