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Special Session: Assessing Students’ Learning Outcomes During A Complex And Real World Problem Based Service Learning (Pbsl) Project In A Sophomore Engineering Design Course

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Special Session: Impacts of Service in Engineering

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1082.1 - 15.1082.12



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Paper Authors


Olga Pierrakos James Madison University

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OLGA PIERRAKOS is an assistant professor in the new School of Engineering, which welcomed it inaugural class August 2008, at James Madison University. Dr. Pierrakos holds a B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech. Her interests in engineering education research center around recruitment and retention, understanding engineering students through the lens of identity theory (NSF BRIGE grant), advancing problem based learning methodologies (NSF CCLI grant), assessing student learning, as well as understanding and integrating complex problem solving in undergraduate engineering education (NSF CAREER grant). Her other research interests lie in cardiovascular fluid mechanics, sustainability research, and K-12 engineering outreach.

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Eric Pappas James Madison University

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ERIC PAPPAS is an associate professor in the School of Engineering and the Department of Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University.

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

Special Session: Assessing Students’ Learning Outcomes during a Complex and Real-world Problem-based Service Learning (PBSL) Project in a Sophomore Engineering Design Course


Authentic and real-world problem solving is an integral part of the engineering profession. Yet, current research indicates that engineering education is primarily focused on well-defined and well-structured problems, which do not provide students the real-world relevance, context, nor experience in solving the types of problems required in the engineering profession. The addition of problem-based learning (PBL) methodologies to the engineering curriculum provides engineering programs the opportunity to introduce students to a variety of real-world projects. Just as important to these PBL methodologies, though, is the type of projects to which students are exposed. Numerous studies have shown the importance and impacts (including learning, retention, motivation, etc.) of integrating service learning projects into engineering education. Herein, we present the assessed learning outcomes of integrating a problem-based service learning (PBSL) experience in a sophomore design course. The implications of such an effort in utilizing PBSL methodologies and learning outcomes assessment are that the strategies and tools developed herein can be used by engineering programs nationwide, independent of discipline or academic level.

Keywords – problem based learning, service learning, engineering design, learning outcomes.


There has been much criticism about undergraduate engineering education not focused on real- world and authentic problem solving. In fact, the type of authentic and real-world problems that engineers often face in the workplace are ill-structured and complex; yet, such problems are not integrated into engineering curricula and coursework. Rather, engineering courses mainly focus on problems that are well-structured with known, correct solutions often acquired from preferred solution methods and an implicit methodical approach1-2. Particularly because engineering practice is more suffused with complex and ill-structured problems1, it is imperative that engineering students begin the real-world practice of problem solving during their undergraduate education.

Problem-based learning (PBL), a powerful student-centered pedagogy, offers a strong framework upon which to build a curriculum that will allow our students to learn essential and globally competitive problem solving skills3-4. Some of the benefits of PBL include: (1) improving students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills, (2) promoting high motivation for students, (3) increasing the ability to integrate and apply engineering skills with fundamentals of math and science, (4) enhancing the acquisition and retention of knowledge, and (5) facilitating collaborative learning. Yet, although widely used in engineering, particularly during the senior year, PBL practices have not extensively been integrated throughout engineering curricula, and limited studies exist to provide sufficient support for PBL. There are two main pitfalls of PBL practice: (1) a poor classification of what constitutes PBL practice and how such

Pierrakos, O., & Pappas, E. (2010, June), Special Session: Assessing Students’ Learning Outcomes During A Complex And Real World Problem Based Service Learning (Pbsl) Project In A Sophomore Engineering Design Course Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16209

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: © 2010 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