Implementing Problem-based Learning in Introductory Engineering Courses: A Qualitative Investigation of Facilitation Strategies

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Virginia Tech

Increasing pressure to transform teaching and learning of engineering is supported by mounting research evidence for the value of learner-centered pedagogies. Despite this evidence, engineering faculty are often unsuccessful in applying such teaching approaches often because they lack the necessary knowledge to customize these pedagogies for their unique contexts. My dissertation study investigated the challenges with facilitation practices in introductory PBL engineering courses and developed a pragmatic research-based model that provides insights aimed at improving PBL facilitation practices using the Innovation Cycle of Educational Practice and Research (ICEPR) as a lens. The ICEPR is useful for investigating connections between educational practice and research for scholarly and systematic educational innovations. I conducted a three-phase sequential study to address critical gaps in the ICEPR regarding both research on and practice of PBL facilitation in engineering. I focused on identifying challenges in practice, developing a model, and disseminating the model through a typology using multiple qualitative data collection and analysis methods. In Phase 1, I studied a new PBL implementation and identified a challenge with facilitator training specifically with regard to a lack of a pragmatic model of facilitation strategies in engineering. In Phase 2, I investigated the facilitation practices of five facilitators in an established PBL engineering course. This resulted in the Model of PBL Facilitation Strategies for Introductory Engineering Courses (PBL-FIEC), where I specifically operationalized the instructional methods constructs from Collins' Cognitive Apprenticeship Framework to describe the variety of ways instructors facilitate student learning in PBL introductory engineering courses. The PBL-FIEC includes six methods and 27 strategies ways for instructors to facilitate students' learning through providing and prompting demonstrations of cognitive and metacognitive processes that emphasize content and process knowledge and different ways of knowing (knowledge, understanding, and reasoning). In Phase 3, I developed a Typology of Facilitation Strategies using PBL-FIEC and observations of instructors to demonstrate how they use and combine facilitation methods. Ultimately, my dissertation research shows how the ICEPR can be used to understand that innovation in educational practice relies on the interaction between researchers and practitioners, while generating a model directly useful for both stakeholders.

problem-based learning, facilitation, introductory engineering