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Problem-based Learning: Perceptions and Impact on Student Learning in a Sustainable Infrastructure Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Collaboration and Communication in Problem-based Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Nicole Barclay University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Dr. Barclay is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Technology and Construction Management. Her research interest in engineering education is to evaluate diverse pedagogy strategies within the classroom to create effective learning experiences for students. Her work mainly centers on engineering education for sustainability.

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The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of problem-based learning on students’ critical thinking and communication skills within the context of a Sustainable Infrastructure course. The course is a liberal studies class offered by an instructor from the College of Engineering. Students enrolled in the course are from a range of engineering and non-engineering majors across the university. The mix of majors is suitable for the interdisciplinary teamwork often found in real-world problem solving, thus giving students experience in critical thinking and communication with technical and non-technical peers. Students worked in teams of three and four to solve ill-defined problems presented by the instructor. Topics covered Construction Waste, Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Recycling Education, Public Transportation, and Campus Transit. Deliverables, including a technical report, an oral presentation, and an analytical reflection, were used as data for this project. Students were surveyed to assess their perceptions of problem-based learning. There were seventy-two participants over three semesters. One preliminary result from both the survey and qualitative data is that students felt confident about working with others from different disciplines. Students mostly commented positively about their communication as a multidisciplinary team in their reflections. Also, the question “I can work well with others from different disciplines” received the highest number of “strongly agree” responses. Concerning students’ assessment data, the results show that students’ actual performance and their perceptions about problem-based learning were somewhat aligned. However, their overall perceptions were more positive than actual performance. In terms of knowledge gained, students reported that they were more aware of infrastructure problems and were more confident in their approach to contributing to solutions to ill-defined problems.

Barclay, N. (2020, June), Problem-based Learning: Perceptions and Impact on Student Learning in a Sustainable Infrastructure Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35086

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