July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
The rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world created an unforeseen challenge for both professional and academic institutions. Many institutions around the country, particularly academic institutions, are struggling to adapt to the challenges posed by the virus. In a persistent COVID-19 environment, people cannot meet in-person to collaborate as often as they once could. The environment has limited our ability to connect, work, and perform as society previously has. As such, academic institutions have recently been required to shift the means and methods of education to adapt to the virus. Historically, one of the more successful educational approaches has been project-based learning (PBL). PBL has a long track record as an alternative to traditional educational techniques. While the published benefits, as well as the drawbacks, of PBL are summarized in this article, what the authors anticipated and will demonstrate is that advantages of the PBL model relative to conventional instruction were accentuated in the COVID environment and that combined with newly minted capabilities, the model produced significant educational gains when compared to traditional instruction and earlier PBL experiences. Methodology for this research includes Likert Scale questions, CATME surveys, and open-ended survey feedback and interviews from students and instructors involved in three unique STEM-related capstone courses to obtain quantitative and qualitative feedback on project-centric learning before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The three capstone projects investigated were the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Concrete Canoe Competition, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) Student Steel Bridge Competition (SSBC), and a partnered project with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) investigating sustainable solutions for lock and dam components. Additionally, aggregate student performance reports from multiple undergraduate level courses were analyzed to determine quantitative differences in performance between both project-based courses and traditional courses, and between courses in pre-COVID-19 and COVID-19 learning environments. Our study revealed that, in the midst of a pandemic, effective use of PBL will enable students to (1) capitalize on collaborative technology to efficiently and successfully solve complex engineering problems, and in doing so, improve student time management skills, (2) improve their critical thinking and engineering judgement, (3) improve their ability to function effectively on a team whose members together provide leadership, create a collaborative and inclusive environment, establish goals, plan tasks, and meet objectives, and (4) enhance their ability to acquire and apply new knowledge to real-world problems. These benefits were achieved to significantly higher degrees in our PBL capstones than in traditional coursework during the pandemic and compare favorably to pre-pandemic achievement levels as well.
Fleaher, C., & Suwanakeree, D., & Collins, S. A., & Kirk, G., & La Torre, A., & Pisacane, P. J., & Arnett, K. P., & McCoy, B. C., & Hill, A. T. (2021, July), Project-based Learning in a Persistent COVID-19 Environment Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37613
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