Bringing New Values into Engineering Education - Gender and Learning in a PBL Environment



    This three-year-long Ph.D. study aims to understand how the Problem-based, Project and Group work-organized (PBL) learning environment as well as the prevailing gender relations influences the learning process of engineering students of both genders.

    With a specific concern on meanings seeking and identity development in learning, this study takes its theoretical departure from learning theories from a constructivism-sociocultural approach. This is related to gender theories that perceive gender construction as both individual characteristics and organization practices. Based on this, a model of understanding learning and a model of understanding gender relations are respectively established. The establishment of a theoretical framework by combining these two models in relation to engineering education provides an analytical tool for understanding learning and gender relations in the social context.

    Empirically, this study examines the learning processes of engineering students of both genders in a PBL environment at a Danish university. Data are generated from interviews and observations at two engineering departments: 1) Electrical, Electronics and Computer Engineering (EE), which is regarded as ‘hard-core’ engineering with female students’ participation less than 5%; 2) Architecture & Design Engineering (A&D), which is a comparatively newly established engineering department with female students’ participation more than 50%.

    Research findings can briefly be summarized as the following:

    1) In general, the PBL environment plays a supportive and motivating role in the learning processes of engineering students. Through doing projects in groups with an objective of solving problems, students are provided chances to improve the capabilities concerning self-direction, active participation and communicative interaction, reflection on experiences, self-management and self-assessment.

    2) Studying engineering in the PBL environment, which imitates a work place environment, students not only master scientific knowledge and technical skills, but also learn to become an engineer by preparing themselves with engineering competences for the future work and developing a sense of professional belonging to the engineering profession.

    3) Gender relations play an influential role on the learning processes of engineering students. Despite the overall gender equality in legislation, the culturally defined norm in the society still to some extent defines gender relations in the science and technology sphere. The association of engineering with maleness and ‘hard-core’ technology makes the experiences of studying engineering different for men and for women in the ways of taking in and creating knowledge and in the ways of managing different identities (for example, gender identity and professional engineering identity).

    4) Learning involves changes. It leads to personal growth and changes of individual identities. Nevertheless, individuals do not only take in knowledge and develop expected competences, but also bring different values into organizational practices.

    These results show that the PBL environment, in which students of both genders can appreciate the meaningfulness of learning, can be regarded as a friendly study milieu for engineering education. However, it can not yet be identified as a good example for recruiting women to engineering, since it has not been employed as a legitimate strategy of top-down initiatives for gender recruitment. This study also identifies some barriers to women to the engineering community in the Danish context, and suggests the redefinition of gender inclusiveness for the pursuit of further gender equality in engineering education.

    This study also concludes that with the introduction of new programs and the increasing participation of new members (for example, women) from diverse social groups, new values and practices are brought into engineering education. The ongoing changes in the aspects of learning and gender relations bring impact on the knowledge creation and dissemination process in engineering education. Therefore, the culturally constructed engineering competences, the ideology of engineers, and engineering values in general are confronting challenges.

    Key words: gender relations, learning, identity development, PBL, engineering education

    Effektiv start/slut dato01/12/200231/12/2011


    • Gender
    • PBL


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