Evaluative research found that students at Dalian Ocean University in China embraced the introduction of project-based laboratory experiments.
In engineering education, the underlying theory is developed in classroom lessons and its application in engineering is usually reinforced with laboratory experiments. Practical laboratory experiments that are performed in small groups or teams are common practice in most engineering programmes at a tertiary level around the world. In the Chinese education system, however, students often have little exposure to team-based assessments, and practical components are more observational than participatory.
Avinda Weerakoon and Nathan Dunbar are Senior Lecturers in Engineering Technology at Otago Polytechnic who work on our collaborative degree programme with a Chinese university. With their Chinese colleagues, they developed two project-based laboratory experiments for groups of 45 and 80 mechanical engineering students respectively in China. The first laboratory was part of strengths of materials course and the second was for the thermodynamics and heat transfer course. The projects fit the model of Conceiving — Designing — Implementing — Operating (CDIO) real-world systems and products.
Students gave very positive feedback and were much more motivated working on practical projects. However they did not always appreciate that project-based learning is not just about the technical skills involved. Problem-solving and reflection, on what went well and what could be improved, are also a valuable part of their learning, and English language learning can be incorporated. Because of the size of the classes, some groups had to work on the same project, so they were also discovering the need for good communication between them, when handing over the project to another group to do the next stage of work required. Projects like these will help prepare students for success in a New Zealand project-based learning environment on the joint degree programme.