Project-based courses develop skills in engineering
Interdisciplinary discussions about teaching and learning have influenced a shift to include more skill development, redefining education in engineering at Queen’s.
“We’re trying to identify which skills are important in engineering and where students build those skills,” says Brian Frank, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the current DuPont Canada Chair in Engineering Education Research and Development. “How do we assess how well students demonstrate specific skills sets, and how can we use that information to create curricula?”
Dr. Frank served as an educational development faculty associate with the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) before accepting his current chair. His ideas about teaching were influenced while working alongside faculty members from a variety of disciplines also interested in exploring methods of assessment.
Dr. Frank modified a traditional engineering lecture course into a project- or “studio-style” course. Students in the course acquire specific expertise and skills by solving complex problems over several weeks, or the whole term. They integrate skills acquired in previous classes and emulate how engineers work in the field, drawing on past experiences and adapting them to meet current needs.
Dr. Frank has since been involved with a group of engineering faculty who are incorporating project-based courses into all 10 Queen’s engineering programs, and a revised first-year program for all engineering students. Most of the 650 students in first-year engineering work on community service projects, which serve as a vehicle to develop the skills-based learning outcomes of the course. These skills include design, project management, information evaluation, communication, and teamwork.
Brian Frank is currently working with the Engineering Graduate Attribute Development (EGAD) Project developing resources to assist engineering faculties and schools across the country incorporate outcome-based learning models.