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Conflicts in learning: A critical analysis of problem based learning in relation to cultivating innovative engineers

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Classes in Entrepreneurship

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.328.1 - 23.328.15



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Paper Authors


Zhang Fenzhi Aalborg University

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Fenzhi Zhang earned her BSc in Pedagogy from Henan Normal University in China. She continued her graduate studies in the area of higher education in Beijing Normal University for three years. She is currently working on a Ph.D project in Department of Planning in Aalborg University, Denmark. Her research interest is engineering education, innovation and conflicts management.

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Contradictions in learning: A critical analysis of problem based learning in relation to cultivating innovative engineers FENZHI ZHANG1, ANETTE KOLMOS1, ERIK DE GRAAF1 1 UNESCO CHAIR in Problem Based Learning, Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University, Denmark Email:,, degraaff@plan.aau.dkAbstract: To promote economic growth and national competitions, current policies address on educatinginnovative engineers, who can contribute both on technology function and business value. Meanwhile, the risingneed of specialized and unique products requires engineers to innovate in relation to cross-disciplinary fields.Traditional engineering education is losing some of its relevance in relation to these new requirements ofengineering knowledge and profession. Thus, traditional engineering pedagogy is increasingly replaced bylearner-centered and group-organized approaches, such as problem based learning (PBL). However, recentstudies found that such learner-centered and group-organized approaches have filled with contradictions duringfostering innovative engineers. Among learning theories, Klaus holzkamp’s “subject science of learning” takescontradictions as destructive in learning, while Yrjö Engeström’s “expansive learning” considers contradictionsas the driving force of learning and innovation. Their significant difference provides space for this study toexplore the relationship between contradiction and cultivation of innovation competency in an empirical study.To illustrate contradictions in “new” forms of learning, this paper conducted one case study in PBL curricula.Specifically, this paper intends to answer the following questions: 1) What are the typical contradictions duringcultivation of innovation competency in PBL curricula? 2) How to take account of these contradictions incultivating innovation competency? Besides providing literature review, we collected empirical data by one-year observation on curriculum practice in one engineering master program, Environment Management, atAalborg University, Denmark. Instead of simply displaying whether negative or positive impact ofcontradictions, results of this study unfold levels of contradictions in PBL curriculum, opportunities and killersof innovation competency in different levels of contradictions. Based on these results, an innovative approachfor problem based learning is developed, which can be used to enhance the comprehension of contradictions inrelation to learning and innovation. In addition, this paper contributes to critically rethinking PBL curricula incultivating innovative engineers.Key words: contradictions; innovative engineers; creativity; engineering education; problem based learning    

Fenzhi, Z. (2013, June), Conflicts in learning: A critical analysis of problem based learning in relation to cultivating innovative engineers Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19342

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