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Problem, Project, Inquiry, Or Subject Based Pedagogies: What To Do?

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade for Teaching II

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1025.1 - 11.1025.11



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Paper Authors


David Malicky University of San Diego

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David M. Malicky is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of San Diego. His teaching interests are in solid mechanics, design, and manufacturing. His research interests include biomechanics and engineering education. He received a B.S. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Kansas.

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Ming Huang University of San Diego

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Ming Z. Huang is currently Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of San Diego, San Diego, California. Dr. Huang is a registered Professional Engineer and is actively involved in research focusing on integrating industry practices with engineering education. Dr. Huang received his B.S. from the National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan in 1980, M.S. from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island in 1984, and Ph.D. from the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio in 1988, all in Mechanical Engineering.

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Susan Lord University of San Diego

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Susan M. Lord received a B.S. from Cornell University and the M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University and is an Associate Professor of EE at the University of San Diego. Her teaching and research interests include electronics, optoelectronics, microwave photonics, materials science, & first year engineering courses. She and several colleagues won the 2004 Helen Plants award for Best Nontraditional Session at FIE2004 for “Feminist Frontiers.”

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Problem, Project, Inquiry, or Subject-Based Pedagogies: What to do?


When trying to determine the most effective approach for enhancing student learning, engineering educators may feel overwhelmed by the myriad of pedagogies and variety of results presented in the literature. One may choose from a wide and potentially confusing array of teaching methods including problem-based learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, subject-based learning, active learning, cooperative learning, mixed methods, and others. Both new and experienced instructors may be appropriately hesitant to risk a new approach, but also unsure of how to evaluate or manage that risk. In this paper, we will briefly describe the pedagogies of project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, subject-based learning, and mixed methods. We will then discuss a framework by which an engineering educator could evaluate the potential benefits and risks of adopting a particular pedagogy in a specific course. This is done by identifying factors relating to students, instructor, course, and institution. While there is no one universal best choice, this paper will examine the merits, risks, and implementation strategies of various pedagogies as they relate to these factors.


New or experienced engineering educators may have a sincere desire to enhance student learning but not be sure how to approach this task. Although engineering educators may have some understanding of active learning, cooperative learning, and problem-based learning, they may not have in-depth knowledge nor know which approach is best for their own classes or students. Indeed, the literature shows a large multitude of pedagogies, each of which has promoters citing compelling evidence for its adoption. Further, attempting a new pedagogy may require unclear but substantial investments of time and resources, investments that might not pay off if the pedagogy is not well-matched to the instructor’s particular course and environment. Thus the decision to try a new pedagogy is characterized by both benefits and risks. Both of these may covary with many situation-specific factors such as the instructor’s tenure status and students’ prior expectations. One thesis of this paper is that traditional and non-traditional pedagogies both have advantages and disadvantages. To help the educator address these difficult decisions, this paper aims to 1) provide an overview of the major pedagogical options for engineering courses and 2) delineate the major situational factors that influence the risks, benefits, and implementation strategies of these pedagogies.

Overview of pedagogies

This paper does not provide detailed guidance towards implementing any particular pedagogy. Rather, a brief overview is given and appropriate references cited.

Malicky, D., & Huang, M., & Lord, S. (2006, June), Problem, Project, Inquiry, Or Subject Based Pedagogies: What To Do? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1019

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: © 2006 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