Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach in which students learn course content by using a structured approach to collaboratively solving complex real-world problems. PBL addresses widespread industry concern that graduates of technician and engineering programs often have difficulty applying their technical knowledge to novel situations and working effectively in teams. Over the past 9 years, the PBL Projects of the New England Board of Higher Education (Boston, MA) have developed instructional strategies and materials that research shows address industry concerns by improving student learning, retention, critical thinking and problem-solving skills as well as the transfer of knowledge to new situations. In this paper we present a retrospective of the PBL Projects, three National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education (NSF-ATE) projects that developed twenty interdisciplinary multi-media PBL case studies called "Challenges" in the topic areas of optics/photonics, sustainable technology and advanced manufacturing, provided faculty professional development in the use of PBL in the classroom to teachers across the U.S. and abroad, and conducted research on the efficacy of the PBL method. We will describe the resources built into the Challenges to scaffold the development of students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills and the support provided to instructors who wish to create a student-centered classroom by incorporating PBL. Finally, we will discuss plans for next steps and examine strategies for taking PBL to the next level through actual industry-based problem solving experiences.
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Judith F. Donnelly and Nicholas M. Massa
The PBL projects: where we've been and where we are going
", Proc. SPIE 9793, Education and Training in Optics and Photonics: ETOP 2015, 97932K (October 8, 2015); doi:10.1117/12.2223219; http://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.2223219