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Exploring the Role of Project-based Learning in Building Self-efficacy in First-year African Engineering Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

For Students to Know and Grow

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Heather R. Beem Ashesi University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Heather Beem is a Mechanical Engineering Faculty at Ashesi University in Ghana, where she leads the Resourceful Engineering Lab. Her research explores the mechanisms and manifestations of resourceful design, particularly along the lines of indigenous innovation, experiential education, and bio-inspired fluid dynamics. Dr. Beem completed her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at MIT/WHOI, and moved shortly thereafter to Ghana. She founded and leads Practical Education Network (PEN), a STEM education nonprofit equipping Ghanaian STEM teachers to employ experiential pedagogies, leveraging locally-available resources.

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Many students entering university in Africa have spent the bulk of their school hours learning through rote memorization, which can lead to low academic performance and self-efficacy. A locally-relevant, project-based learning experience was provided to all first year engineering students (N = 91) at Ashesi University in Ghana. Pre and post surveys were administered to understand changes in students’ self-efficacy as a result of the intervention. The project scope was to design, build, and fly a quadcopter drone to simulate surveying a mining area in Zimbabwe and transporting items between two sites. This scope was significantly more challenging than anything most of them had done before, as evidenced by less than half of the students reporting prior experience designing and building any product, and nearly a third describing the project as “impossible” at first. Significant (p < 1.04 E-2) increases with medium to large effect sizes (|g| = 0.653 to 1.427) were measured for five of six self-efficacy measures, capturing how students’ belief in their own abilities increased as a result of the intervention. The effect size of the increase was largest for those students with no prior experience in fabrication. The intervention had no to small effect size on students’ aspirations for how they will use engineering, suggesting that stronger connections should be made to the broader implications of the skills they are acquiring. Some of the top challenges expressed by students shifted from inward-facing ones (such as negative self-perceptions and doubts in their own abilities) to those commonly experienced in group projects (such as teamwork and troubleshooting), providing another indication of increase in self-efficacy. Despite the level of complexity of the project, the top emotions expressed by students upon completion of the project were pride and joy. The use of responsive pedagogy should be further refined, mechanisms for building self-efficacy in young African engineers should be elicited, and they should be considered equally alongside interventions focused on improving learning outcomes.

Beem, H. R. (2021, July), Exploring the Role of Project-based Learning in Building Self-efficacy in First-year African Engineering Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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