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Personal Epistemology: The Impact of Project-based Learning

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Cognitive Engagement

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Rongrong Liu


Jiabin Zhu Shanghai Jiao Tong University

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Jiabin Zhu is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Her primary research interests relate to the assessment of teaching and learning in engineering, cognitive development of graduate and undergraduate students, and global engineering. She received her Ph.D. from the School of Engineering Education, Purdue University in 2013.

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Project-based learning (PBL) has been widely adopted in engineering education because of its proved effectiveness in improving students’ problem-solving skills, collaboration skills, self-directed learning skills and academic achievement [1]. Moreover, it has been reported that students’ participation in PBL activities could be beneficial for their epistemological development [2]. Nevertheless, it remains unclear how students’ personal epistemology were impacted via PBL.

In this research, we set out to understand the impact of PBL on engineering students’ personal epistemology in the context of Perry's theory, which depicts students’ epistemological development from dualistic thinking to a contextual constructive manner of thinking in four stages, that is, Dualism, Multiplicity, Relativism and Commitment (within Relativism) [3]. In our prior study we provided a profile of engineering students’ epistemological development in the context of Perry’s theory through a quantitative measurement [4]. Built upon our prior findings, we interviewed twenty-one students whose predominant thinking style fell into the higher levels of Perry’s theory (Relativism and Comment). Specifically, we explored the relationships between engineering students’ personal epistemology and their engagement in PBL activities in a qualitative manner.

Our preliminary findings demonstrated a range of different formats of PBL in engineering students’ learning and their respective impact on their personal epistemology. These different formats include capstone design projects, course design projects, research projects, projects in competitive events, and others. The complexity level, the amount of guidance received in the projects and other factors were closely associated to students’ personal epistemology. These preliminary findings suggest the importance of carefully scaffolding the complexity of projects and the incorporation of mentoring process in students’ involvement of engineering projects. We expect outcomes of this research will provide practical suggestions for the implementation of project-based teaching and learning.

Keywords: Project-based Learning; Epistemological Belief; Study Process [1] Mills, J. E., & Treagust, D. F. (2003). Engineering education—Is problem-based or project-based learning the answer. Australasian journal of engineering education, 3(2), 2-16. [2] Pavelich, M. J, & Moore, W. S. (1996). Measuring the effect of experiential education using the Perry model. Journal of Engineering Education, 85(4): 287-292. [3] Perry W G(1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: a scheme. New York. [4] Removed for Blinded Review.

Liu, R., & Zhu, J. (2018, June), Personal Epistemology: The Impact of Project-based Learning Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30873

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