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Gender Differences in the Long-Term Impacts of Project-Based Learning

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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

Culture, Race, and Gender Issues

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.634.1 - 23.634.18



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Paper Authors


Richard F. Vaz Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Richard F. Vaz received the PhD in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), specializing in signal analysis and machine vision. He held systems and design engineering positions with the Raytheon Company, GenRad Inc., and the MITRE Corporation before joining the WPI Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty in 1987. Rick is currently Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies at WPI, with oversight of WPI’s Global Perspective Program, a worldwide network of 35 Project Centers to which more than 700 students and faculty per year travel to address problems for local agencies and organizations. Rick also oversees an academic unit focused on local and regional sustainability in support of WPI’s interdisciplinary degree requirement, the Interactive Qualifying Project.

Rick’s interests include experiential learning, engineering design and appropriate technology, and internationalizing engineering education. He has developed and supervised hundreds of student research projects in the Americas, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe. Rick has published over 55 peer-reviewed or invited papers and is the recipient of numerous teaching and advising awards including the WPI Trustees’ Awards for Outstanding Teaching and for Outstanding Advising. From 2004 to 2010 he served as a Senior Science Fellow of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Paula Quinn Quinn Evaluation Consulting

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Paula Quinn is an independent evaluation consultant with Quinn Evaluation Consulting. She specializes in the field of education and has worked on projects funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education, and private colleges and universities. She holds an M.A. in Developmental Psychology from Clark University and a B.A. in Psychology from Case Western Reserve University.

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Arthur C Heinricher Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Arthur Heinricher is Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Heinricher joined the faculty of WPI in 1992, with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon.

His primary responsibility as Dean of Undergraduate Studies is to assess and ensure the quality of undergraduate programs at WPI. He helped guide the development of WPI’s Great Problems Seminars engaging first year students with interdisciplinary projects tied to problems of current, global importance. He served as Director of the Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statistics at WPI and worked with more than 100 students on more than 30 different mathematics projects with business and industry. He was also principal investigator on WPI’s Research Experience for Undergraduates in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics and was co-organizer of the Mathematics in Industry Institutes for High School Teachers at WPI.

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Kent J Rissmiller Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Associate Professor, Social Science and Policy Studies
Associate Dean, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies

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Gender Differences in the Long-term Impacts of Project-Based LearningAbstractProject-based learning (PBL), an educational method involving open-ended problem solvingtoward a specific goal or objective, has become increasingly common in engineering education.PBL can be employed across the curriculum and at different stages of a student’s education, and,given its social and contextual nature, may hold particular appeal for female engineeringstudents. Previous studies have investigated the effect of gender on PBL, concluding that genderaffects learning outcomes and also impacts how students approach project work. This paperextends those findings with insight into how the long-term impacts of PBL differ by gender.A recent externally-conducted alumni survey investigated long-term impacts of PBL through astudy of 38 years of graduates from a technology-focused university featuring a project-basedcurriculum. These alumni had each completed at least eighteen credit hours of open-endedproblem solving experiences: nine credit hours addressing an interdisciplinary problem, andnine credit hours addressing a problem in their major field. These project experiences did nottake the form of courses, but rather were organized as independent inquiry, typically conductedin small student teams under faculty guidance, often in response to a problem posed by anexternal sponsor.Web-based, asynchronous interaction with a sample of alumni stratified for year of graduation,sex, and major informed survey development. The Likert scale survey explored 39 areas ofpositive professional and personal impact of the two major PBL experiences. Impact areasincluded professional skills (e.g., project management, problem solving, collaboration,communication, leadership); world views (e.g., understanding connections between technologyand society, understanding global issues); and personal impacts (e.g., development of personalcharacter, enrichment of life in ways not related to academics, achievement of work/lifebalance).Surveyed alumni were asked to what extent their PBL experiences impacted them in each area.The online survey was administered to a randomly-selected sample of alumni and yielded 2,526responses with a confidence interval of ±1.8% at a confidence level of 95%. For each of the 39impact areas of PBL that the survey explored, a higher percentage of females reported “much” or“very much” positive impact when compared to males, both for engineering students and for theentire sample. Mann-Whitney U tests revealed that the distributions of female responses werestatistically significant different than those of male responses for 36 of the 39 impacts (p<.05).This paper will present and discuss detailed findings regarding gender differences in long-termimpacts of PBL. The discussion will be informed by analysis of post-survey in-depth interviewswith male and female alumni.

Vaz, R. F., & Quinn, P., & Heinricher, A. C., & Rissmiller, K. J. (2013, June), Gender Differences in the Long-Term Impacts of Project-Based Learning Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19648

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