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Incorporating Problem-Based Learning and Case Studies in Lab Courses: Student Perceptions and Educational Benefits for this Teaching Pedagogy

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.848.1 - 22.848.12



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Paper Authors

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Cindy Waters North Carolina A&T State University


Stephanie Luster-Teasley North Carolina A&T State University

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Dr. Stephanie Luster-Teasley is a tenure-track Assistant Professor with a joint appointment between the Departments of Civil, Architectural, Agricultural, and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University, a MS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Michigan State University. She specializes in physical and chemical remediation processes for water and soils. Her educational research focuses on improving Engineering Education for minority and female students. Prior to joining North Carolina A&T State University, she was a private consultant at two consulting firms specializing in chemical oxidation remediation for soil and water remediation.

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Incorporating Problem Based Learning and Case Studies in Lab Courses: Student Perceptions and Educational Benefits for this Teaching Pedagogy During the Fall and Spring of 2009-2010, an introductory environmental engineeringcourse was re-designed to include four new environmental laboratory modules that use aninquiry-based “open” experiment for enhanced student learning. This research was fundedthrough the NSF Innovations in Engineering Education (IEECI) program to develop modulesutilizing the pedagogy of problem-based learning and case studies to teach new environmentalsustainable design concepts. Problem based learning (PBL) and case studies are novelapproaches for laboratory modules. In PBL and case studies, students are assigned real-worldproblems to discuss, research, and solve as teams. This method diverges from the traditional“step-by-step” method currently used in laboratory courses and provides the opportunity forstudents to use the concepts they learn to develop new ideas for engineering systems. Pre-surveys consisted of the on-line Learning Styles Inventory developed by Felder and abaseline student achievement learning gains (SALG) on-line assessment. Using the class averagefor learning styles, 68.4% of the students preferred active learning, 84.2% preferred sensing,89.5% preferred visual, and 72.2% were sequential learners. The pre-SALG instrument resultsdemonstrated the students had a limited understanding of sustainability and Green Engineeringconcepts. The instrument also indicated the student were enthusiastic about the subject. Studentsduring the pre-assessment indicated they were not familiar with problem-based learning mode ofteaching and this method had not been implemented in any of the prior courses. At the completion of the semester, students completed the post-SALG survey, a post-survey Assessment of Student Preferences for Teaching and Learning, and an ABET BasedQuestionnaire for Course Assessment. A problem arose with the on-line post SALG survey andtoo few students completed the survey so that data for the post-SALG could not be statisticallyevaluated. The Assessment of Student Preferences for Teaching and Learning Survey providedresults indicating students were in favor of incorporating problem based learning in to theclassroom as a tool for instruction, felt they developed a stronger understanding of sustainability,enjoyed the use of case studies; however 83% of the class agreed or strongly agreed theypreferred lectures by the professor. This result may be explained by examination of the modelsof cognitive development developed first by Piaget and later adapted more towards collegestudents by Perry. Prior courses treated the students very much as dualistic thinkers, in that allknowledge comes from a greater authority and all is either right or wrong1. Teachers in previouscourses supplied all of the information in an organized manner and because of the learning stageof the students they were comfortable being given all of the information. As a student movesfrom a dualist to relativist epistemologies they are able to form their own opinions and betterbuild their own knowledge. This perception of students is also evidenced in the focus groupinterviews that were performed at the conclusion of the semester. Students spoke on theirperceived level of engagement compared to other labs they have taken and the instructor style.This paper will address the psychology and the results gleaned from the use of problem basedlearning in a laboratory course.1. Svinicki, Marilla, A Guidebook On Conceptual Frameworks For Research In Engineering Education, Rigorous Researin Engineering Education NSF DUE-0341127, DUE-0817461, 2010

Waters, C., & Luster-Teasley, S. (2011, June), Incorporating Problem-Based Learning and Case Studies in Lab Courses: Student Perceptions and Educational Benefits for this Teaching Pedagogy Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18129

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