Variation of PBL in Higher Education within Engineering, Science and Mathematics

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Aalborg University (AAU) in Denmark is one of the universities in the world that practises problem-based learning (PBL) in all study programmes at all faculties. The PBL principles are broadly defined, and each study programme practices PBL in its own way within these frames. In this paper, we study how differently PBL is practiced within the science, engineering and mathematics areas at AAU. In particular, we analyse 21 AAU Bachelor theses in a selection of different engineering, science, and mathematics study programmes, to explore which types of problems from the discipline the students are addressing in their projects. We exemplify this through an analysis of recent Bachelor theses from Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Building and Construction Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics, and Biology, respectively. The focus is on which types of problem from the discipline the students work with. The research methodology is documentary analysis of curricula and the theses. We first, through a deductive analysis, apply the four shadows of problems’ theoretical framework to categorize the problems. This showed that 18 of the 21 theses can be categorized as concerning a contrast problem. This is the case for all five fields of study. Secondly, a more detailed inductive content analysis of these 18 theses’ problems showed that these 18 problems had a great variation, and we were able to identify five specific types of contrast problems among these 18 theses.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Engineering Education
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)934–946
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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