Question: How to appropriately train and develop engineers to work in a team, to solve complex problems requiring great coordination, meticulous project planning, and multi-domain knowledge? 

Answer: Through a scaffolded, authentic project where students just dive in and do it!

Here at the School of Engineering, we have run the 2nd iteration of the prize-winning unit ENGG200/300, a multi-year, vertically integrated Problem Based Learning (vPBL) activity designed for authentic engineering problem-solving.

This year, students were tasked with designing, documenting and constructing a 10:1 scaled-down elevator system. The class consisted of a collection of more than 500 students which were split into 11 teams, consisting of 3 engineering disciplines.

Students worked in emulated mini consultancy firms with 3rd year senior and 2nd-year junior engineering students. Using industry-standard project management software tools, JIRA, and CONFLUENCE. Students gain first-hand experience with the challenges involved in a multi-domain systems engineering project.

Initially, almost all students underestimated the challenge involved, thinking that as long as they completed their own subsystems, the project would seamlessly integrate. As the semester progressed, they began to realise the challenges involved in systems engineering, where coordination and documentation are essential to the success of the project. Concepts such as functional requirements, interface requirements, subsystem testing, integration, and teamwork coordination truly came to light.

Over the semester the students experienced agency behind advocating their design ideas, the thrill of communicating their designs and the frustration of coordinating between members intra- and inter-group. From the reflective document that each student of the class was required to submit, it was evident that all students matured and benefited from the experiential learning created by this vPBL environment.

By the end of the 13 weeks, 7 of the 11 elevators worked as per plan. They all greatly varied in the design approaches and demonstrated genuine creativity in solution ideation. The quality of manufacturing verified dependent on students’ prior exposure and passion for prototyping. It was all very memorable for all students. Especially the 3rd year students, as it is their second round of vPBL exposure. The 2nd year students who passed the unit will go on to being the seniors in next year’s challenge – providing genuine co-creation to their own learning experience!

We were also able to secure an internship position with the elevator company OTIS by the end of the semester. OTIS was impressed by our students’ ability in problem-solving and working for a team.

Click here to suggest an authentic engineering project for next year where the project would result in a visual artifact, hands-on in the prototyping, multi-disciplinary and complex. Or simply visit our School at 44 Waterloo Road to see the elevator systems and the problem-based learning environment we are using to empower our students with teamwork and problem-solving skills!

Special thanks to all the dedicated teaching staff involved: Elton Button, Alex Arriola, Aaron Colusso, Amir Safari, Evan Hollins, Nishat Koli, Gerry O’Connor, Ibrahim Ibrahim, Barry McDonald and Rex di Bona.

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Posted by Nicholas Tse

A nanotechnologist and chemist by training, passionate educator and creative thinker by day and entrepreneur at heart. Currently in the School of Engineering as an Education Focused Lecturer.

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