PBL at the Polytechnic School of Águeda

The audience was composed of experts and students in engineering and education.

The audience was composed of experts and students in engineering and education.

Visiting Portugal’s University of Aveiro some weeks ago provided me opportunities to speak with doctoral students and professors of engineering and education.

After I delivered a formal presentation to a small but enthusiastic group at the University of Aveiro’s Department of Education, my host, José Manuel Nunes de Oliveira drove me to the University’s satellite campus, known as the Polytechnic School of Águeda (or Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão de Águeda, Universidade de Aveiro) where he teaches engineering.

Jose and his colleagues use Problem-Based Learning to teach engineering students.  They have formatted their classrooms to support group-based learning.  (My DIT colleague, Gavin Duffy, visited Jose and his campus earlier in the year to see how they use space. He wanted their advice to help in the programming phase of DIT’s new engineering facilities.)

What impressed me most in touring the buildings and grounds of the Águeda campus, though, was that the students were all working in groups–and that they seemed to be doing so on every type of project.

Jose says that after the teachers introduce the group-learning approach in the first year, students embrace it and want to do everything this way.

I thought that Jose said that students receive credit for their topic courses (i.e.,those with specific engineering content), but not for their project work (I was wrong, as I explain in my subsequent blog). In architecture we refer to these technical/topic classes as “support courses.”

All the courses a students take in a semester at the Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão de Águeda help support the project they have been asked to do in groups. They are able to apply what they learn in the projects they design… but they don’t get formal credit for the design activities. In architecture in the USA, the design activities are assigned the most credit (typically 5-6 credit hours per semester) while each support course is generally worth just 3 credits. The architecture community tends to value the project or “design studio” work above all else.

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