Case study of a project-based learning course in civil engineering design

Gavin, K. (2011) Case study of a project-based learning course in civil engineering design. European Journal of Engineering Education, 36 (6). pp. 547-558. ISSN 03043797 (ISSN)

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This paper describes the use of project-based learning to teach design skills to civil engineering students at University College Dublin (UCD). The paper first considers the development of problem-based leaning (PBL) as a tool in higher education. The general issues to be considered in the design of the curriculum for a PBL module are reviewed. Consideration of the literature on the application of PBL in civil engineering suggests that, because of the hierarchical nature of engineering education, PBL is best applied in a hybrid form known as Project Based Learning. A detailed description is given of how hybrid PBL was implemented in the final year of a civil engineering degree programme. In the final section, the results of an evaluation process designed to gain an insight into students' perceptions of the PBL process are reviewed. The module, which was developed at UCD, provided an excellent mechanism for developing many skills, including problem-solving, innovation, group-working and presentation skills desired by graduate employers. It was clear that the students enjoyed the peer to peer teaching and increased interaction with staff and external experts, which the problem-solving nature of the module facilitated. © 2011 Copyright SEFI.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Cited By :7; Export Date: 23 February 2015; Correspondence Address: Gavin, K.; University College Dublin, Civil Engineering, Newstead Building, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland; email:; References: (2000) Engineering Criteria 2000, ,, ABET, 2, [online]. Engineering Accreditation Commission. Baltimore, MD: Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. Available from: [Accessed 29 September 2009]; Ahern, A., What are the perceptions of lecturers towards using cooperative learning in civil engineering? (2008) European Journal of Engineering Education, 32 (5), pp. 517-526; Baillie, C., Fitzgerald, G., Motivation and attrition in engineering students (2000) European Journal of Civil Engineering Education, 25 (2), pp. 145-155; Barrows, H.S., (2000) Problem-based learning applied to medical education, , Springfield, IL: Southern Illinois University Press; Barrett, T., Understanding problem based learning (PBP) (2005) Handbook of enquiry and problem based learning: Irish case studies and international perspectives, , In: Barrett T., Mac Labhrainn I., Fallon H., editors Galway: CELT, NUI; Barrett, T., (2008) Students' talk about problem-based learning in liminal spaces, , Coventry University Unpublished Doctorate thesis; Boud, D., Problem-based learning in perspective (1985) Problem-based learning in education for the professions, , In: Boud D., editors Sydney: Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia; Clousten, T.J., Exploring methods of analysing talk in problem-based learning tutorials (2007) Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31 (2), pp. 183-193; de Bono, E., (1992) Serious creativity: Using the power of lateral thinking to create new ideas, , London: Harper Collins; de Graaff, E., Ravesteijn, W., Training complete engineers: global enterprise and engineering education (2001) European Journal of Engineering Education, 26 (4), pp. 419-427; Federau, M., Problem-oriented, project-based education in civil engineering, Part 1 (2006) Report in inquiries into European higher education in civil engineering, pp. 30-47. , In: Manilou I., editors Bucahrest, Romania: CONSPRESS 6th Euceet volume; Fink, L.D., (2003) A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning, , San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass; Gavin, K.G., Design of the curriculum for a second-cycle course in civil engineering in the context of the Bologna framework (2010) European Journal of Engineering Education, 35 (2), pp. 175-185; Kolmos, A., de Graff, E., Du, X., Diversity of PBL - PBL learning principles and models (2009) Research on PBL practice in engineering education, pp. 9-21. , In: Xu D., editors Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers chapter 2; Kolmos, A., (2007) Problem based learning, tree - teaching and research in engineering in Europe, ,, [online]. Report by Special Interest Group B5, 'Problem Based Learning and Project Oriented Learning'. Available from: [Accessed 25 November 2009]; Marcangelo, C., Gibbon, C., Cage, M., (2009) Problem based learning evaluation toolkit, ,, [online]. Report of the Problem Based Learning Special Interest Group. Available from: [Accessed 25 November 2009]; Mills, J.E., Treagust, D.F., Engineering education - is problem based or project based learning the answer? [online] (2003) Australian Journal of Engineering Education, ,, Available from: [Accessed 29 September 2009]; (2007) Moving forward to improve engineering education, ,, National Science Board, [online]. National Science Board Report No. NSB-07-122. Available from: [Accessed 21 May 2009]; Perrennet, J.C., Bouhutjs, P.A.J., Smits, J., The suitability of problem-based learning for engineering education: theory and practices (2000) Teaching in Higher Education, 5 (3), pp. 2-16; Prados, J.W., Engineering education in the United States: past, present, and future (1998) Proceedings of the international conference on engineering education, , ICEE 1998; Savin-Baden, M., (2000) Problem based learning in higher education: Untold stories, , Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press; Schon, D., (1983) Educating the reflective practitioner: How professionals think in practice, , New York: Basic Books; Schon, D., (1987) Educating the reflective practitioner: Towards a new design for teaching professional, , New York: Basic Books
Uncontrolled Keywords: civil engineering; problem-based learning; project-based learning; Civil engineering students; Design skills; Engineering degrees; Engineering design; Evaluation process; Higher education; Hybrid forms; Peer to peer; Presentation skills; Problem based learning; Problem-based; Project based learning; Curricula; Design; Teaching; Students
Depositing User: Colin Lowry
Last Modified: 27 Nov 2015 09:50

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