Variation in PBL in different university STEM study programmes: How elastic is PBL?

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Aalborg University (AAU) in Denmark practises problem-based learning (PBL) in all study programmes in all faculties. The PBL principles are broadly defined; different study programmes may choose a variety of PBL practices. The purpose of this paper is therefore to analyse how PBL student projects look in a selection of different STEM study programmes and to discuss the elasticity of the PBL principles. One would expect PBL to “look different” when comparing, for instance, projects in the humanities with science, but we want to learn if there is any variation within the STEM subjects. We analysed groups of three, four, and seven recent student Bachelor reports (6th semester) from Mathematics, Biology, and Mechanical Engineering, respectively. The subjects are taught and recognised worldwide. We focus on Bachelor reports since they show how students work with their subject by the end of a PBL education. We expect that by choosing the final projects, we avoid “beginner-issues” in PBL as the Bachelor project is the seventh PBL project the students do at AAU so any variation in the projects is not due to students not yet grasping the principles of PBL. The research methodology is documentary analysis of curricula and the reports. The focus is on how the reports describe and analyse their problem and what types of problem the students work with. Our findings show a great variation within problems but mainly the students worked with contrast problems, thus here there is room for even more diversity of projects and elasticity of PBL. Some reports did not apply PBL terminology but instead wrote, for instance, aim. Most projects were discipline projects while two were a kind of multi projects where groups collaborated with another group in different ways. Overall, we saw a great variety of PBL, which testifies to the elastic nature of PBL.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEducate for the future : PBL, Sustainability and Digitalisation 2020
EditorsAida Guerra, Juebei Chen, Maiken Winther, Anette Kolmos
Number of pages10
PublisherAalborg Universitetsforlag
Publication date2020
ISBN (Electronic)978-87-7210-313-6
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventIRSPBL 2020: Educate for the Future: PBL, Sustainability and Digitalisation - Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
Duration: 16 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


ConferenceIRSPBL 2020: Educate for the Future: PBL, Sustainability and Digitalisation
LocationAalborg University
Internet address
SeriesInternational Research Symposium on PBL


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