Applied Maths Summer School

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By Dr Peter H. Charlton and Dr Jordi Alastruey

In our day-to-day research we dedicate much of our creative thinking to meeting the needs of patients and clinicians. It is unusual that we are given time to reflect on how best to inspire the next generation of engineers. A range of questions spring to mind upon doing so. How do you foster engineering mindsets capable of developing ingenious solutions to sometimes overwhelming problems? Which are the most important engineering tools to equip future engineers with? What is the best way to become fluent with these tools? Try coming up with insightful answers whilst juggling your daily work.

The Applied Maths Summer School was different.

A group of highly talented students travelled to London from across the globe, eager to apply their skills to challenging real-world problems. A syllabus was prepared covering the fundamentals of engineering – all the bricks required to lay a solid foundation. Our task was to instil in students the excitement of becoming inventors. We were to provide them with the necessary tools, and create an environment in which they could find the creativity within themselves to develop as applied mathematicians and engineers.

How do you foster engineering mindsets? Introduce students to the fore-fathers of modern engineering through a research assignment. Summer school students had the opportunity to study the great thinkers of the previous millennium, whose work will continue to form the basis of engineering solutions deep into this millennium. Ever wondered how you supply water to remote mountainous areas at times of drought? You’ll need to apply your knowledge of calculus, developed by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 17th century.

Which engineering tools are most important? Perhaps differentiation, which can be used by policy makers to decide how best to allocate taxpayers’ money. Perhaps integration, which is used to design cargo vessels which transport goods around the world. Maybe vector algebra, suitable for generating 3D virtual reality to enable robot-assisted surgery? On each day of the course the students were given a lecture on one of the fundamental mathematical tools, equipping them with a toolbox for solving engineering problems.

What is the best way for students to become fluent in these tools? Each lecture was followed by a problem class, in which a range of engineering problems and solutions were presented to students. They quickly became familiar with the pattern of using mathematical tools to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Each day finished with a group activity, in which students were challenged to apply the tools in new settings. During the course each student used differentiation to develop methods for heart rate monitoring, creating valuable tools for clinicians and fitness trackers alike. Students also applied integration to the problem of monitoring the delivery of oxygen to bodily organs – vital for life.

So, how can we best inspire the next generation of engineers? A summer school seems like a great starting point.

The Benefits of the IB World Student Conference

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By Dr Matt Edwards

During the summer, I had the pleasure of working with the King’s College London Summer School team on the IB World Student Conference, where 240 students from 23 different countries, all in their penultimate year of high school, explored the theme of ‘well-being in a healthy world: personal responsibility and global health’. The aim of the conference was for students to devise projects they could take back to their communities to help elicit positive change – no small task, but the IB asks students to be agents of positive change, and opportunities such as this conference are a great place to start.

The IB has been referred to as the ‘gold standard of education’; students not only have to study a Language, a Science, Maths, English and a Humanity, but also undertake Service in their community, write a 4,000 word Extended Essay on a novel piece of research and question how we know what we know in Theory of Knowledge. Anyone who has taught the IB knows just how powerful the programme is, and it is difficult not to sing its praises. The students at the IB conference were exercising many of the skills gained in their first year of the programme – one could see how they were questioning assumptions about Human Rights, the challenges of cultural relativism and how one can elicit genuine and sustainable change in one’s community. Their thoughtful and nuanced approach to the design of their projects reflected the skills they have already acquired from their IB Diploma. They were already aware of what makes projects successful having worked on a range of Service projects already back in their hometowns, and the insight shown by the students towards the shaping of meaningful projects was impressive. I know that their skills will only get stronger as all the students complete their programmes.

To paraphrase the famous quote, young people today live in exciting times – the increasingly globally-connected world gives us numerous possibilities, but at the same time, significant challenges. The conference explored some of those challenges with respect to well-being and asked the students to create tangible solutions. It asked a lot of these young people – to take responsibility, which can be difficult, even for an adult. King’s provided an excellent place to start their journey, with quality lectures on mental health in the young, the global refugee crisis and the social implications of an ageing population. Once the students had explored the problems, we moved on to solutions – further King’s lectures on social entrepreneurship and how students and staff at King’s were innovating solutions to these and other problems.

Students spent afternoons discussing various diverse topics including human rights, failure and project development, so they could move towards projects they could build themselves. The material provided by the lectures was invaluable in shaping these ideas. Over the course of the week, it was incredible to see young people from all parts of the world working together to tackle issues that were common to them all – parental pressure for success, the stigma of mental health around the world or tackling assumptions about race, gender and religion. Students made teaser videos of their projects to hone their message, and presented their project in a ‘dragon’s den’ style pitching session to members of the King’s team. It was a wonderfully fun week and there was a genuine buzz during the whole time.

Reflecting on the conference, I was thinking that these young people will soon be heading to university, voting for the first time and making decisions about their (and others) future; having a university-like experience at this age helps them to better understand what is available to them, and how they should value that opportunity and grab it with both hands. The time they spent at King’s has given them a set of skills to go and change the world for the better – and I was pleased to be a witness.

 

The Summer Programmes Team at EAIE 2017

Untitled design (8)On 14 September,the King’s College London Summer Programmes team will be leading two sessions at the European Association for International Education (EAIE) annual conference in Seville, sharing our expertise with higher education colleagues from across the world.

The first session, Diversifying summer programming: a game changer in internationalisation, (9:30am to 10:30am) will discuss innovative uses of summer schools as ways to engage with new audiences and to deepen international partnerships. Our director, Dr Sarah Williamson, will share the podium with Eva Janssen from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Guri Vestad from Oslo. Dr Williamson will debate how diversifying the portfolios of summer programmes can reach new levels of internationalisation.

Dr Williamson and Dr Alexander Heinz, Lead of King’s Summer Education Programme, will then also be speaking at the poster session; Changing lives: strategies for building inclusive summer schools (11:00-12:30). They will present innovative strategies that we at King’s use to make the summer programmes we offer more socially inclusive.

We look forward to hopefully seeing you at these events at EAIE. You can find out more about the conference in Seville and how to attend by visiting their website. And if you will be there and attend any of our sessions please do let us know in the comments below and chat to us at EAIE.

Learning on the Move: Reinventing in Berlin

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By Dr. Alexander Heinz, Senior Tutor & Lead – Summer Education Program.

There is something about being in motion while learning that doesn’t come together comfortably in our heads.  Learning requires quiet concentration. Repetition is often cited as the mother of learning, and so on. Archetypal images of studious people almost invariably include somebody sitting still at a desk, reading or listening attentively.

We know that this imagination of what learning is supposed to be has never been true. It is not just technology that has made information and insight ubiquitous. We sometimes think better – or better think – on our feet; who hasn’t found it easier to concentrate on phone conversations when pacing the room? Academic solitude still has its place but we cannot spend a 21st century life in the ivory tower. Experiential learning has unsurprisingly risen to become a buzz word of today’s Higher Education community.

We in King’s Summer Programmes recently premiered our Berlin Summer Study Visit which was coordinated by King’s scholar, Aida Baghernejad in Berlin. Thirteen undergraduate students of diverse subject backgrounds were invited to understand the symphony of this city of contradictions, its resourceful, complex character, its ugliness and beauty by experiencing it up close.  The carefully choreographed course took them along many miles of road and introduced them to a plethora of faces, foods, three hundred years of history, kings and queens, roaring twenties, crimes, wars, walls. With interventions from bloggers and journalists, the group visited present day Berlin by travelling through its past first.

Off to a new place

The unconventional nature of learning on the move was an integral part of how students were to learn and understand the content of this course. Meeting eye witnesses to historical events in the place where they live is a privileged way of learning. One of Germany’s most eminent journalists, Gerd Appenzeller, spoke about his life in his divided Berlin. Plaques and the internet combined to enable us to meet witnesses who are no longer with us virtually, bringing to life the human tragedy in the houses in front of us. The Stolperstein (stumbling stone) app, for example, provides more background to little golden stone plaques embedded in the pavement in front of houses where victims of National Socialist terror used to live.

We approached and entered the monumental Olympic Stadium, accompanied by a talk on its history by doctoral researcher Sanna Stegmaier. Using Sanna’s tablet, we were able to use virtual reality to see us a 1936 Olympic torch bearer running down the steps just next to us and hear the roar of the crowd.  It really brought to life a side of the National Socialist heyday that is not often discussed or explained: its allure and glamour.  Confronting that feeling of interest married with knowledge of its terrible impact on the world felt like a very dangerous sensation.  Standing in that place, experiencing that together was a more powerful learning experience than expected.

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The site of the 1936 Olympic Games and an exercise in how to behave towards an impressive building built by the wrong people. Mobile phones provide a handy 21st century coping method.

Learning as a whole human being

Berlin’s innate ability to reinvent and renew itself, even when resources are scarce, resonated with the group. Participants came together with the objects of their study often for the first time and in a largely unexplored context.

The emotional tide participants feel during this type of experiential learning experience is substantial. In contrast to a day in the classroom, a study day tour is more easily an occasion. Berlin remains a city that is struggling economically, but a city that continues to be affordable to many, especially young people. What is the relationship between young people in today’s Germany compared to their peers in Britain? This course aimed to encourage participants’ self confidence and to nurture their ability for careful critical thinking when engaging with the present as much as it sought to explain Berlin’s rich histories.

A different group will take its baggage to Berlin next year and hopefully come back travelling lighter and more confidently. This course has done its job and opened the participants’ minds to the wealth of possibilities and ideas out there.  I wonder if any of them will take the plunge and found a start up in Berlin when they graduate? I’d like to think so…

 Do you learn better on the move? Or do you find that your students are more engaged when learning takes place when you’re on the move? Let us know in the comments below.

Finding the Reel London

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My experience as a tutor with the King’s Undergraduate Summer School programme is very much a privileged one. Each year I am fortunate enough to return to meet a new batch of extremely talented students, who have travelled from all over the world to come to study at the college. Their level of enthusiasm and willingness to explore every crevice of a London that will be there home for 3 (and sometimes 6) weeks never ceases to amaze. Every new class is a force of nature, and it is a pleasure to see individuals forge new friendships against the backdrop of this great city, many often returning over the subsequent months to reacquaint themselves with their favourite landmark, outdoor park or coffee shop. For my part, my Summer School experience allows me to indulge my love of cinema and my home city by teaching the popular London and Film course. This class starts on the big screen and moves outwards, examining London’s “cinematic” qualities and the many forms that it takes across a range of films. Sitting right on the Thames and within walking distance to its most famous landmarks, King’s College’s is the perfect place to map the capital’s shifting cinematic landscape, and to see how it has been portrayed by a host of homegrown and international filmmakers.

However, not only does the London and Film course offer an introduction to London’s cinematic history, or give an insight into the capital’s vibrant film culture (with the Cinema Museum, British Film Institute and London Film Museum all close by). This is a course that has also actively shifted the direction of my own teaching and research. The London-focus of the module’s case study films has broadened my own intellectual horizons and introduced me to new hidden gems that I am able to combine with my undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Guided by the knowledge of the Summer School students who bring the names of their favourite London-set films with them as they enter the college for the first time, I now seek out unknown and sometimes lost London titles. It is these odd and offbeat titles that find their way into courses I continue to teach here at King’s, their presence on modules a testament to the input of past Summer School students whose passing comment about ‘that film set in Covent Garden’ thankfully left an enduring imprint.

The global reach of the Summer School attracts students with their own diverse ideas of an imaginary London dreamt up in the media. My London is not your London, and while we may all share a romanticised idea of what the capital might be (home to James Bond, Mary Poppins and Bridget Jones perhaps), each film and each student has the potential to remake the city anew. Perhaps expectedly, I have lost track over the number of discussions I have had with my Summer School classes over whether it is the Harry Potter version of London, or the one glimpsed in Love Actually, that is more accurate and appealing. With this year’s Summer School 2017 fast approaching, it will soon be time to have these debates all over again. And I can’t wait.

By Dr Christopher Holliday

Learning from the City: Summer School Influences on Undergraduate Teaching

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Having spent most of my life in London, I have come to realise how much this city has to teach us: not just in its vast array of museums (from National Galleries to pop-up exhibitions), but also through our everyday interactions with the city’s streets and citizens. When I took over the Literature in the City module, I wanted to draw on London as a tool to enhance our classroom experience.

I therefore decided to map the literature we studied onto the spaces they described. Virginia Woolf’s walk down the Strand, Charles Dickens’s encounters in St. Giles, W.B. Yeats’s melancholy on Fleet Street, all these spaces are central to the text we study. These writers create a window into a rich and deeply imagined terrain, and it is one that is right outside the main entrance to King’s. Encountering these spaces in conjunction with the literature itself, offers not only a deep sense of what this writing is trying to express, but also – and, perhaps, more crucially – just how much London has evolved!

There is a creative element to all our wanderings through the city – James Joyce certainly discovered as much in his journeys through Dublin – and so I actively encourage students to record their experience of the sites we visit. We pause at our locations, writing personal responses that capture the similarities and differences with the literature we have studied. ‘If we turn and go past the anchored ships towards London’, do we still see what Woolf called ‘the most dismal prospect in the world’? For some, contemporary London’s glass skyline reiterates Woolf’s point. For others it shows a glowing metropolis and a global icon.

One of the final essay questions is designed to critically evaluate these creative encounters. It was a mode of assessment I adapted from some undergraduate teaching at King’s. But this summer school has also informed my wider teaching at the University – not least in opening up the classroom. While our timetable directs us to the lecture hall, what better way to learn about, say, the London Blitz than by scouring the city for its legacy? (Bloomsbury, you should know, has a lot to offer!) Probing through the layers of London’s history is often a difficult task, but the places such as the Museum of London are filled with objects that can help to resurrect the past.

It is because of these experiences on the summer school, that the mantra “the city is my classroom” has become a recurrent phrase in so much of my teaching at King’s. Be it through explorations in disused tube stations or trips to the Black Cultural Archives, getting out into the city has become integral to my ability to teach the complexities and changes London has to offer.

 By Dr George Legg

Summer School: Beyond Shakespeare in London

Untitled design (44)Back in 2009, King’s College London took the then courageous step to begin an Undergraduate Summer School. It was a leap in the dark and we started from nothing. At the time, the expectation was, quite unsurprisingly, that this was mainly going to be a programme for the North American market to suit their study abroad needs. In that first year our most important course was Shakespeare in London. Much has changed since then.

Shakespeare in London reflected what our summer school students were meant to be: a mainly western audience who would welcome an opportunity to visit Shakespeare’s home country; a quintessentially English hero of their own culture too. Since that summer in 2009, many hundreds of students have joined us, from places where Shakespeare is known, but also where he isn’t an integral part of the national reading culture.

We have watched the programme evolve along with our roles as international officers charged with enabling the experience. Today the King’s Undergraduate Summer School facilitates the learning of students from over 90 nations and forms a strong part of our university’s international office. We still welcome students from North America to enjoy Shakespeare, but with them come new students from China, which is now our second largest cohort.

Expanding the curriculum
Over time, we have grown to appreciate and develop the potential of a summer school, which is a most refreshing format in which to teach. We took academic quality extremely seriously when we created our programmes, and are now rewarded with a vehicle that both draws on and influences standard-format teaching for degree programmes. This is a far cry from one of the original concerns that summer teaching would disrupt or be lower grade to mainstream teaching in some way.

From offering undergraduate classes in London, we have expanded to offering a large programme in a major BRICS country, India, and diversified into high school-level courses and public engagement markets. We continue to create programmes that allow for a wide range of audiences to partake in education through short courses over the summer, whatever their individual circumstances.

Partnerships
We always keep in mind that working and thinking internationally in London does not necessarily mean working abroad. Thirty-seven percent of Londoners were born abroad, and London is such a busy and accessible travel hub, it seems as though everyone is heading or returning from somewhere.

One of our long-term partners on Summer Programmes is the city’s magnificent Museum of London. Partnering with the Museum of London was compelling for us in more ways than one. We found that a number of our students came from countries or areas in the world, where museums were in short supply or museum didactics very different. The Museum of London, with its commitment to pedagogy, was open to innovative collaboration; an element that our Summer School alumni praise highly after they have taken our course Curating the City.

Breaking boundaries
I recently bumped into one of our summer tutors in a coffee shop. She asked me whether, now that it was winter, I was busy doing another job. Like degree programming in the wider university, the summer is a year-round job to keep our modules and our content current. At King’s – which has an admirable breadth of research focusing on global issues – our team works with research colleagues all year to design summer programmes that give access to pioneering research that is destined to have a truly global impact on communities, wherever they are located in the world.

Students quite rightly don’t just want to learn about a British perspective when they come here; they are increasingly and fundamentally interested in having courses which address problems that matter to their home countries, and discuss questions that affect their and others’ lives. Our Global Health and Social Medicine course team is an example of this; indeed perhaps no subject exemplifies better how communities worldwide can and must benefit from university research.

Democratising study abroad
Summer Schools have become a useful tool for internationalisation, allowing for shorter term experiences abroad as well as with our partners in all corners of the globe. Summer schools enable more students to go abroad, to step (at least for a short time) into the shoes of their counterparts in another country. Often accused of being only available to those who can afford it (something that remains a challenge due to the element of relocation), they have also become one of the tools that has democratised study abroad.

Not every international experience is the result of choice, or can be lightly termed ‘enriching’. Western Europe is affected by profound refugee movements in our global region. At King’s, we have been collaborating very closely with the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for a number of years. UNHCR make unique contributions to our summer teaching, and together we recently have inaugurated the new Summer-at-King’s scholarships for refugees. Summer schools are a space to re-imagine yourself and can help make this re-imagination a reality; something that we are very proud to support.

Shakespeare in Mumbai
Attending a summer school is a very personal choice and that is why summer schools cannot just be about Shakespeare in London anymore. They should also be about Shakespeare in India, in the US, and in Taiwan. They should be about current issues in health care, ancient languages, and about devising technology for a better future for the poorest communities.

We are always appraising how we should diversify the portfolio to best inform and represent the global citizens our programmes attract. Our programmes are based both in London and abroad. When they are based here, our students are invited to be fully present in the moment while also acknowledging that the London cosmos is only one stop en route to their next goal in life.

Alexander is Senior Tutor Summer Programmes at King’s College London, UK.

This post was originally featured on the European Association for International Education Blog.

Professor Howard’s Summer School Journey

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I’m a passionate advocate of summer school and, I confess, an old hand. As an undergraduate, I enrolled with great excitement in my first summer class 35 years ago. As a postgraduate 10 years later, I taught my first summer course. Now I teach Theatrical London at King’s College London every summer.

So over three and half decades, as both student and professor, what key advantages and disadvantages have I observed? Why, in my view, have the benefits always outweighed any potential shortcomings?

First and most obvious, summertime is typically warmer, sunnier, and drier, enabling more excursions, field trips, and seminars outdoors. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I really appreciated learning in the open air, sitting on the grass, and swapping ideas. It helped open up conversations and seemed to open minds.

Second, because of this more relaxed informal atmosphere, I got to know my classmates better, as well as my tutors. I’ll never forget my Intercultural Communication module, when the distinguished Professor Michael Prosser arrived in khaki shorts and knee-high socks! Always friendly and self-effacing, “Mr. Prosser” literally modeled the preeminence of great ideas over high fashion, effective discussions over coat-and-tie formality.

Third, as opposed to a regular student workload of three or four modules over a three- or four-month semester, a three-week summer school course allows concentrated study of a single subject. In our internet age of shortened attention spans, this intense focus is refreshing and demanding, stretching our capacities to ascertain and assess subtle complexities of subject matter.

On the other hand, if the subject is not well crafted, tedium can set in, risking burn out. As an inexperienced young instructor in the early 1990s, I convened a summer course on the arts and literature of HIV/AIDS. Utterly worthwhile, this topic was nonetheless deeply depressing before the advent of antiretroviral therapies, since for most, diagnosis meant sure death. Indeed, despite the heroism of a select few doctors, epidemiologists, writers, artists, and activists, the death tolls over this period were staggering—and potentially intellectually paralyzing.

However, fourth, this kind of deep engagement, I’ve learned, works especially well with inherently diversified topics. For instance, British playwriting and London stage productions address such a broad range of themes as to perpetually rejuvenate readers and challenge audiences. This means that in addition to the traditional concerns with dramatic form, poetic language, stage performance, and the like, Theatrical London examines the varied, complex even puzzling topics of the critically-acclaimed plays we read and see, including gender, sexuality, ethnic conflict, nuclear warfare, and terrorism, to name just a few.

In sum, I’ve found that the unique combination of concentrated single-subject study in a sunny relaxed environment works wonders. Whereas the campus proper may be a bit calmer than usual (providing excellent quiet spaces for reading and research), the streets of London are never busier, always beckoning to bright students.

Immersive. Intensive. Informal. Ideal!

Keep it Real: Success in Project-Based Learning, Part II: Challenges and Solutions

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“We want our colleagues to embrace this new way of teaching, and we know that can’t happen if we place too much of a burden on them.”

There are several challenges, both pedagogic and motivational, in successfully implementing a PBL approach.  The team behind the Engineering: Creating Technologies that Help People module in the summer school have had to keep these are the forefront of our thinking when designing the module.

The main pedagogic challenges are timetabling PBL modules, allocating teaching resources and deciding on assessment methods.  Instructors unused to the approach often face a steep learning curve and, structurally, university departments may struggle to allocate sufficient staffing resources to the PBL stream, particularly in the early stages of adoption when the majority of instruction continues to be offered via the more-traditional large-scale lecture.  Proper planning – and the allocation of sufficient resources to planning – in advance of the launch of a new PBL stream is essential, as is continued monitoring of the impact of PBL on instructor workload once the stream has launched.  We want our colleagues to embrace this new way of teaching, and we know that can’t happen if we place too much of a burden on them.

The main motivational challenge is getting students who arrive at university having only received information-transfer based instruction to actively engage with this new approach to learning.  For example, a team from Dublin Institute of Technology examined the student experience of a PBL module offered as part of the 1st year of one of their undergraduate engineering courses.1  The module had two competitions, an intermediate competition at the midpoint and a second at the end; and the Dublin team found that students did not really commit to the PBL approach until the date of the first competition approached i.e. until the very last moment.

“When examining what reasons students give for feeling motivated by a project, one of the themes that comes up most often is “authenticity”.”

The Dublin PBL module was centred on creating a robot to take part in a Sumo wrestling contest (the second competition).  However, when examining what reasons students give for feeling motivated by a project, one of the themes that comes up most often is “authenticity” – having a real-world problem to solve.  The table below, taken from a Finnish study2 of two projects assigned to IT students, summarises the findings of three earlier studies that touched on motivational factors.  Taking out the aspects centred on the team-based project aspects common to all PBL, we have factors related to the “real world” – authenticity, and, related to this, the existence and participation of a client.

At the same time, the Finnish study found that there two project teams sometimes felt pressured by having to meet the expectations of the client and tackle a real-world problem [that they may see as intractable].  It is here where support from the instructor/advisor is key providing context, encouragement and helping the students focus on achievable goals and maintaining a good working relationship with the client.

“The role of the instructor/advisor is to support the student with encouragement and context”

So these are the factors we’ve had to think about in putting together our Engineering module.  And with these in mind we’ve designed a learning experience centred on bringing together students and clients to solve real-world problems.  Project-Based Learning is a powerful tool for helping deliver knowledgeable students who are active in pursuit of their own learning, but the choice of project is key to triggering engagement with an approach that the student will likely be entirely unfamiliar-with upon arrival; keeping it real delivers that engagement.  At the same time, we recognise that the authenticity of the scenario can also prove daunting.  So we’ve recruited a team of instructor/advisors ready to support the student with encouragement and context, giving them the confidence to make this leap from the classroom into the real world.

“We need to make sure that in keeping it real, we don’t also make it miserable.”

And there is one last thing we know we need to get right: we need to make sure that in keeping it real, we don’t also make it miserable.   I think Beau Lotto, neuroscientist and expert on perception said it best: “Uncertainty is what makes play fun. Right? It’s adaptable to change. Right? It opens possibility, and it’s cooperative. It’s actually how we do our social bonding, and it’s intrinsically motivated. What that means is that we play to play. Play is its own reward.

“Now if you look at these five ways of being, these are the exact same ways of being you need in order to be a good scientist. If you add rules to play, you have a game. That’s actually what an experiment is.” Beau Lotto, TED Talk “Science is for Everyone, Kids Included” 06/12

 References

  1. Duffy et al “Student Experiences of a Project-based Learning Module” 41st SEFI Conference 2013
  2. Hilvonen and Ovaska “Student Motivation in Project-Based Learning”, International Conference on Engaging Pedagogy, 2010

 

Keep it Real: Success in Project-Based Learning, Part I: What is PBL?

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Dr Jamie Barras, Informatics Teaching Fellow at King’s College London

“I’m a big believer in learning by doing”

I’m a big believer in learning by doing.  That’s why I’ve joined the team who are bringing Project-based learning (PBL) to the 2017 King’s Summer School with the module Engineering: Creating Technologies that Help People.  In PBL, students, generally working in small groups, are presented with a problem to solve or task to complete and allowed to work out for themselves the best way to go about doing that – including what knowledge they will need to acquire in order to succeed.  The instructor acts primarily as an advisor and support, stepping in to guide the student(s) only if they lose their way.

PBL has many attractions; it allows students to take ownership of their learning experience, encourages a broad-based approach to acquiring skills both technical and non-technical and fosters a co-operative outlook to making progress, attributes that are particularly relevant to engineering as a discipline.  The benefits are often contrasted with the characteristics of lecture-based learning, as in the table below, taken from a 1996 paper1.

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Activities have a strong practical basis and are often “lab-based”, while teaching is primarily through the medium of the “round-table” tutorials organised and led by the students themselves with the help/presence of faculty advisors/mentors.  Projects proceed through a number of steps, the most-common expression of which is the so-called “Maastricht Seven Steps” of PBL2:

  1. Clarify and agree working definitions, unclear terms and concepts
  2. Define the problem and agree which phenomena require explanation
  3. Analyse the problems (brainstorm)
  4. Arrange explanations into a tentative solution
  5. Generate and prioritise learning objectives
  6. Research the objectives through private study
  7. Report back, synthesize explanations and apply new information to the original problems

Research on the impact that PBL has on student’s education is on-going, but completed studies point to students who follow a PBL-centred curriculum retain knowledge longer and gain a deeper understanding of a subject than those who learn only through information transfer; they also develop better problem-solving and collaborative skills.  We’re hoping that’s what the students who take our summer school module will discover too.

In my next blog post I’ll discuss some of the challenges with PBL – and the solutions we’ve come up with.

References

  1. Lutz and Schachterle “Projects in Undergraduate Engineering Education in America” European Journal of Engineering Education (1996) 21, 207 – 214.
  2. Taken from “An Introduction to Project-Based Learning”, Maggi Savenn-Boden, Coventry University Publications