Porto — Obrigado!

One last glimpse of my beautiful Porto and my Fulbright trip there, just before I introduce you to Problem-Based Learning in Belgium….

Group- and Project-Based Learning

We've got 19 shining faces in the Problem-Based Learning module we are conducting on Tuesdays in May.

We’ve got 19 shining faces in the Problem-Based Learning module we are conducting on Tuesdays in May. (Not to mention three shiny teachers!)

In the Fulbright application I submitted two Augusts ago, I promised to co-teach a class at DIT that used Problem-Based Learning.  At the time I applied, I anticipated that I would co-teach an architecture course.  But in the course of the interviews I conducted, I discovered it had been quite a while since DIT’s Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre (LTTC) had offered a module for faculty/staff on how to implement Problem-Based Learning.

I’ve witnessed such remarkable results that seem to have accrued as a result of the topic having been offered in the past–by Terry Barrett and Brian Bowe.

So, I recruited some folks (Orla Hanratty, Brian Bowe, and Gavin Duffy) to help and 19 students enrolled in the course.  Here are some photos from Day One….

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.

Problem-Based Learning — Live in Setúbal

In Problem-Based Learning, participants work in groups to: explore a problem, determine what they need to know to understand the problem, identify sources they can use, formulate hypotheses, and begin designing responses to the “problem” they’ve been presented.

In the PBL workshop Bill Williams and I conducted in Setúbal, there were three teams working to address the “problem” of how to integrate PBL into one of the institutions’ engineering programs.

These photos show the groups working together.  Participants in this workshop included engineering students, engineering teachers, and members of the central administration.

Refining PBL in Setúbal, Portugal

Setubal logoI’ve been away from blogging to focus on my mini lecture tour.  I spent a week in Portugal and a week in Belgium visiting universities, meeting with students and educators, and sharing ideas about how to teach and learn effectively.

My first stop in Portugal was to an engineering program located a ferry ride from Lisbon.

My colleague Bill Williams teaches there. I had met Bill at the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) conference in Greece last September. Bill was born in Cork, Ireland. He teaches English to engineers, is working on a PhD, and does high-quality engineering education research. He helped coordinate my trip in a way that allowed me to visit five different campuses while I was in Portugal.  Bill seems to know everyone in Portugal who is doing research about how to educate engineers.

Bill hopes to get more people using active learning approaches in the classrooms at Escola Superior de Tecnologia do Barreiro – Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal so the two of us conducted a two-hour workshop on Project-Based and Problem-Based Learning.  Thirteen people came to learn about PBL, hear about methods in use at Dublin Institute of Technology and about research I’ve been doing at DIT, and work together to develop ideas for implementing PBL across one program at the institute in Setubal.

Bill and I hope those ideas will move from hypothetical to actual someday soon.

Today, I’m posting images that the institute’s photographer took of the event.  I have many more of the participants working in groups to explore the “problem” of how to implement PBL in Setubal.  I was thrilled to receive email from participants after the event via Bill — I was really impressed that they took time to say they enjoyed the workshop.

Group-Based Learning in Action

I’m becoming a bigger and bigger believer in collaborative learning!  Last semester I did lot of research about how engineering professors (i.e., lecturers) here at Dublin Institute of Technology worked together to develop new ways of teaching electrical engineers.  I was amazed to discover how incredibly much they learned by working together.

Such impressive knowledge gain is the premise behind Project-Based Learning and other group-based learning formats.

Orla and Shannon in the throws of course planning.

Orla and Shannon in the throws of course planning.

My day today was filled with meetings about collaborative research and teaching projects.

With the help of five different tech guys, I got SPSS up and running so that I will be able to help analyze data on that Mike Murphy and I collected from engineering and engineering technology students. We asked them what they saw themselves doing in the future, how well prepared they feel to start work, and what kinds of things they’ve focused their efforts on over the past few years.

After lunch I met with Orla Hanratty of DIT’s Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre (LTTC) and introduced her to Brian Bowe. She’ll be co-teaching a course (i.e., module) with us in May.  We aim to increase the usage and visibility of Problem-Based Learning at DIT by teaching more teachers to use Problem-Based Learning in their own classrooms.

And now, tonight, I’ve been working on a proposal for funding with Ted Burke and Damon Berry.  It’s an opportunity that the college’s head of research, Marek Rebow, told me about yesterday and it has to be completed immediately.

I rallied the troops. Ted drafted some text. Then Damon and I were adding our own contributions to it using Google Docs.  It was so strange… Damon and me editing the same document at the same time.  It turned into a bit of an academic chat session.  We tossed ideas back and forth, discussing budget, objectives, and ways to improve what we’ve already got in place.

We’ll do more of that tomorrow, when the three of us meet to hash this out… and have some fun learning in the process.

A Flexible Learning Lab at DIT

This is a picture of a flexible lab for learning engineering.  It is a space for group-driven problem-based learning, or a “PBL classroom.” A colleague of mine back in Virginia who is an expert in engineering education said she wasn’t familiar with this type of space, so I though I’d post it for others to see.

The flexible learnign lab in the DIT electrical engineering program.

The flexible learning lab in the DIT electrical engineering program.

It was designed to promote team learning and provide access to materials and tools for building engineering projects.  Above, Gavin’s Instrumentation class had just wrapped up for the morning.

Ready to Oink at the RoboSlam

Dave Dorran working with students at the mid-semester trials for RoboSumo, March 2012. (Photo by Shannon Chance.)

Dave Dorran working with students at the mid-semester trials for RoboSumo, March 2012. (Photo by Shannon Chance.)

Regarding my prior RoboSumo blog, Ted did read it and he wrote back:

Hi Shannon,

Thanks for writing about RoboSumo on your blog – that was a very pleasant surprise!!

As you anticipated, I do have an updated list of people currently tutoring on RoboSumo:

  • David Dorran
  • Richard Hayes
  • Ted Burke
  • John McGrory

Although Damon Berry isn’t currently tutoring on the module, he remains closely involved in the broader DIT RoboSumo enterprise. For example, he and I travelled to Galway with the DIT student team on Saturday 19th January to take part in the National Intervarsity RoboSumo competition. And of course, Damon and I are still developing our “RoboSlam” begginers’ workshop for promoting engineering/programming/robotics, which we will hopefully be running again soon within DIT with an assorted cohort of guinea pigs (engineers, teachers, non-engineers, regular people, etc). Expect a call.


Dr. Ted Burke
School of Electrical Engineering Systems
Dublin Institute of Technology
Kevin St.
Dublin 8
Richard Hayes leading the 2012 RoboSumo trials. (Photo by Shannon Chance, March 2012.)

Richard Hayes leading the 2012 RoboSumo trials. (Photo by Shannon Chance, March 2012.)


To which I replied:
Oink, oink!  I’m ready!
I’ll update the blog shortly….

But alas, Ted is always a stickler for details. I think he must be a brilliant engineer because he’s creative as well. Anyway, Ted said:
…On a minor point of information, I have it on good authority that guinea pigs chut, chubble, wheeeek and rumble but they don’t oink. Evidently, before we can meaningfully assess the strengths and weaknesses of our workshop, we’ll have to familiarise all our subjects with the basic vocabulary they’ll be using!  Ted
Oh.  But, architects oink!
Did you think I was a pig????

Damon Berry advising a student at RoboSumo. (Photo by Shannon Chance, March 2012.)

Damon Berry advising a student at RoboSumo. (Photo by Shannon Chance, March 2012.)


LOLzers. Of course – how silly of me!