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Designing Effective Project-based Learning Experience Using a Participatory Design Approach

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.479.1 - 26.479.12



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Paper Authors

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Jianyu Dong California State University, Los Angeles

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Pearl Chen California State University, Los Angeles


Anthony Hernandez California State University, Los Angeles

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Dr. Hernandez is an Associate Professor in the Division of Applied and Advanced Studies in Education at California State University, Los Angeles. He received his doctorate in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on Latino student academic achievement and attainment.

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Designing Effective Project-based Learning Experience using Participatory Design ApproachIn recent years, Project-based Learning (PBL) has been widely adopted in engineering educationas a useful pedagogy to enhance student motivation, improve understanding of engineeringprinciples, and develop practical design skills. However, it is also well recognized that theeffectiveness of PBL depends on the way of implementation as well as the characteristics of thelearners. In 2013, California State University Los Angeles (CSULA) received a researchinitiative grant (RIGEE) from NSF to investigate how engineering students with differentbackgrounds respond to Collaborative Project-based Learning (CPBL) pedagogy, and to exploreeffective strategies to integrate CPBL in the instructional system. The research consists of twomajor stages. The first stage is an empirical study conducted in EE440, a pilot electricalengineering course that was revised to employ CPBL, to analyze the pedagogical impact ofCPBL and develop a better understanding of the learning characteristics of minority students.The first stage work was conducted in year 2013 to 2014, and the findings were reported in ourprevious ASEE publication. The second stage of research is to leverage the findings from stageone study to enhance the design of the instructional system that incorporates CPBL in order toproduce a more engaging learning experience and increase student success.This paper presents the progress and findings of research conducted in stage two, including thecourse redesign process, the primary pedagogical changes in revised CPBL, and the consequentimpact on student learning. The course re-design was conducted using an innovative approachcalled participatory design strategy. The principle of participatory design is to involve the endusers (which are the students in our case) in every stage of the design process. Guided by thetheory of situated learning, the faculty and student co-designers worked together to re-examinethe CPBL model and revise the pedagogy based on cognitive apprenticeship and its four buildingblocks including content, method, sequence, and sociology. The revised CPBL allowed studentsto define their own projects and provided more opportunities for students to reflect on their ownlearning strategies and performance. The redesigned course was offered in Spring 2014, andsignificant improvement in term project performance was observed. To analyze the impact of thepedagogical revision, a mixed research methodology was used to collect both quantitative andqualitative data including pre and post survey, informal and formal interviews, and participantobservation. The interview was conducted multiple times throughout the quarter to track thechange of student motivation and participation in the class projects. The paper will includedetailed data analysis to reveal how students with different academic and cultural backgroundsresponded to the revised CPBL and discuss why these changes helped to promote deep learningin PBL.

Dong, J., & Chen, P., & Hernandez, A. (2015, June), Designing Effective Project-based Learning Experience Using a Participatory Design Approach Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23817

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