Asee peer logo

PBL Field Deployment: Lessons Learned Adding a Problem-Based Learning Unit to a Traditional Engineering Lecture and Lab Course

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Problem- Project- and Case-Based Learning in Environmental Engineering

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.974.1 - 24.974.15



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


MaryShannon Williams University of Missouri, Columbia

visit author page

MaryShannon Williams graduated with a bachelor of science degree in radio-TV-film from the University of Texas, Austin in 1994 and completed her master of arts in education at the University of Texas, San Antonio in 2004. She spent 10 years working in K-12 education prior to becoming an instructional designer for the University of Texas Health Science Center’s School of Nursing. In 2011, she entered the doctoral program in the School of Information Science and Learning Technology (SISLT) in the College of Education at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Shortly thereafter, she began working with an environmental engineering professor to provide a formative evaluation of his course using the ABET framework as a lens for assessment. She began researching engineering education, specifically exploring the implementation of problem-based learning (PBL) to help prepare students to meet the ABET standards. She currently is working as a graduate assistant for the eThemes project while completing her comprehensive examination, research proposal, and dissertation.

visit author page


Sara Elizabeth Ringbauer University of Missouri, Columbia

visit author page

Sara Ringbauer is a doctoral student in the School of Information Sciences & Learning Technologies (SISLT) at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Ms. Ringbauer's research interests include increasing STEM learning through the use of technology and effective use of handheld and wearable computers in the classroom.

visit author page

Download Paper |


PBL Field Deployment: Lessons Learned Adding a Problem- Based Learning Unit to a Traditional Engineering Lecture and Lab Course Problem-based learning (PBL) has proven to be an effective strategy for preparingprofessionals to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace. When implemented well,problem-based learning mirrors both the technical skills and the soft skills required inenvironmental engineering jobs. These soft skills such as teamwork, argumentation,communication, listening, time management and meeting deadlines are often overlooked in atraditional engineering lecture course (Direito, Pereira & Duarte, 2012). Incorporating a PBLunit to an environmental engineering lecture and lab course provides an opportunity for studentsto improve these soft skills. PBL has become the norm in effective medical school curriculum design (Yadav et al,2011). PBL prepares students to solve the complex, ill-structured type of problems prevalent inthe daily life of working engineers (Jonassen, Strobel, & Lee, 2006). While PBL has been shownto improve learning that is problem-focused, student-centered, self-directed and self-reflective(Jonassen, 2010), few studies discuss the challenges of PBL field deployments. A better understanding of the specific challenges of implementing a field PBL is needed.The goal of this study is to address the literature gap of PBL field deployment methods. Thiscase study will help engineering educators avoid pitfalls that may detract from the benefitsinherent in the effective use of PBL. The researchers identify several important considerations when implementing a PBL labunit in a traditional environmental engineering lecture with lab course. These considerationsinclude working with instructional staff to design the unit, allocation of lab resources, connectinglab and lecture content, padding the unit with extra time, placing the unit in a context relevant tostudents, increasing interactivity, group size and student involvement. This study examines the design of a web based PBL air quality unit and its incorporationinto the lab portion of an environmental engineering course. Researchers employed a qualitativecase study approach. An open-ended survey was completed by 30 participants. The courseinstructors and seven participants were interviewed in-depth about their experience. A groundedtheory approach was employed and emergent results indicate that group size, amount ofinteractivity and alignment between instruction and assessment were key factors impactingstudent learning and overall effectiveness of the PBL approach.References:Direito, I., Pereira, A., & Duarte, A. M. d. O. (2012). Engineering Undergraduates’ Perceptions of Soft Skills: Relations with Self-Efficacy and Learning Styles. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 55(0), 843-851.Jonassen, D.H. (2010). Learning to solve problems: A handbook for designing problem-solving learning environments. New York, NY: Routledge.Jonassen, D., Strobel, J., & Lee, C.B. (2006). Everyday problem solving in engineering: Lessons for engineering educators, Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), 139-151.Yadav, A., Subedi, D., Lundeberg, M.A., & Bunting, C.F. (2011). Problem-based learning: Influence on students’ learning in an electrical engineering course. Journal of Engineering Education, 100(2), 253-280.

Williams, M., & Ringbauer, S. E. (2014, June), PBL Field Deployment: Lessons Learned Adding a Problem-Based Learning Unit to a Traditional Engineering Lecture and Lab Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22907

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015