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Project Supervisors’ Views of a Group Based Project Exam for Engineering Students in a Problem-Based Learning Curriculum

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2017 ASEE International Forum


Columbus , Ohio

Publication Date

June 28, 2017

Start Date

June 28, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Concurrent Paper Tracks Session II - Curriculum II

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Main Forum (Podium Presentation)

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Bettina Dahl Aalborg University, Denmark

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Bettina Dahl Soendergaard is an associate professor at the Aalborg Centre for Problem Based Learning in Engineering, Science and Sustainability under the auspices of UNESCO at Aalborg University (Denmark). She also holds a Professor II position in mathematics education at the University of Bergen in Norway. She has a M.Sc. degree in mathematics from Aalborg University as well as a M.Sc. degree in Educational Research Methodology from University of Oxford (UK). Her Ph.D. is in mathematics education from Roskilde University (Denmark). Since her Ph.D. she has worked as Adviser at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology among other things participating in developing the national tests in mathematics and informal mathematics for students. She has also worked as an assistant professor at Virginia Tech where she taught and managed the secondary mathematics master education program for future teachers and participated in an out-of-school time program to increase learning and interest in STEM for youth. Later she returned to Denmark to work as assistant/associate professor at Aarhus University. There she went into more higher education research and teaching in mathematics and science as well as teaching and developing workshops for informal STEM education for youth.

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This paper uses team project supervisors’ perceptions to understand how important skills such as collaboration and communication can be assessed effectively. These skills, like problem-solving skills, are essential to engineers; however the interpersonal skills are more difficult to assess. Their effective assessment will enhance learning; anticipation of an exam affects student behavior and aligning a curriculum to the assessment method promotes attainment of learning objectives. Engineering students at Aalborg University (AAU) in Denmark spend half their time working on group projects in a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum. PBL projects involve problem analysis and problem-solving, and are assessed through group exams lasting around four hours after which each student receives an individual grade. AAU has held group exams since its start in 1974, except during 2007-2013 when national law mandated individual exams. When the group exam was reintroduced, questionnaires were created for both students and supervisors to analyze the reimplementation. Supervisors act as internal examiners alongside external academic or industry examiners. A 2007 study showed that supervisors preferred the group exam as it was more aligned with PBL principles. However, the new group exam differs from the former; it now includes an individual phase in which each student is questioned directly but where the other group members are still present. This paper reports supervisors’ views of (1) The new group exam in comparison with the individual exam, (2) The individual phase of the new group exam, (3) The distribution of grades and quality of assessment. Also, responses of tenured and untenured faculty were analyzed for differences.

The questionnaire was distributed just after the summer exams in 2013 via emails to all supervisors at the Faculty of Engineering and Science. The questionnaire was based on the 2007 questionnaire and revised after a pilot in February 2013. A minority of supervisors (15%) preferred to have an individual exam while a minoriy (29%) disagrred that the individual part of the new group exam was necessary to determine the individual student’s grade. 60% agreed that the individual and the group part of the group exam each assess different competencies. 40% of the supervisors found that the assessment was made difficult by the fact that one cannot ask the same question to more than one student in a group but only 24% preferred that the students should sit alone with the examiners during the individual part. There was not a significant difference between tenured and untenured faculty on these questions. A large part of the supervisors (38%) found that it was easier to differentiate between the students when assessed in groups than when assessed one after one in individual exams. 45% agreed that in comparison, the individual and group exam were equally suitable to ensure that the students obtained a fair grade. 84% found that the group exam was a good mirror of the way the students collaborate during the semester and 86% agreed that it is important that the students learn to discuss their findings with others wherefore a group exam is important. Overall, the study shows that the group exam is an aligned and suitable practice to assess students' learning outcomes in a PBL curriculum but that an individual phase is also important. The group exam is able to assess skills of collaboration and problem-solving essential for engineers. It appears that experience has an impact on how supervisors experience the grading. Good preparation of faculty is necessary to secure a fair assessment.

Dahl, B. (2017, June), Project Supervisors’ Views of a Group Based Project Exam for Engineering Students in a Problem-Based Learning Curriculum Paper presented at 2017 ASEE International Forum, Columbus , Ohio.

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