DS 123: Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2023)

Year: 2023
Editor: Buck, Lyndon; Grierson, Hilary; Bohemia, Erik
Author: Acharya, Shakuntala; Bhatt, Apoorv Naresh; Chakrabarti, Amaresh
Series: E&PDE
Institution: Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, India; Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, India
Section: Responsible innovation in design and engineering education
DOI number: 10.35199/EPDE.2023.85
ISBN: 978-1-912254-19-4


Problem-based learning (PBL) is an “instructional (and curricular) learner-centered approach that empowers learners to conduct research, integrate theory and practice, and apply knowledge and skills to develop a viable solution to a defined problem”, in which students learn through “facilitated problem solving that centers on a complex problem that does not have a single correct answer”. Literature reports that it has profound implications on the motivations of the student to learn, and can be widely used to support several domains, as it is known to help develop various top skills, such as, critical thinking, complex problem- solving, self-learning, collaboration and communication skills, necessary for young graduates to be industry-ready and responsible innovators. This paper investigates the current undergraduate education scenario – at the global and local level, through secondary and primary research, and highlights the policies and challenges in the face of implementation of the same, due to varied structure of autonomy, as well as resource availability, which is a big constraint in the region. Technical education offered by South Asian Universities, particularly at undergraduate level, remains didactic, teacher-centric and contextually disconnected from the issues and challenges of the region, in turn, making the fresh graduates poor in skills needed to be industry-ready. In addition, the members of faculty too, struggle with inculcating real-world issues and problems into practical experiences for students due to course loads, lesson plans and lack of training in more appropriate pedagogical approaches. However, the region recognizes the need to bring in reform into the current education system, and countries like, India, Nepal and Bhutan are in a transformative phase: trying to imbibe creativity and competence while instilling cultural identity and sensitization to sustainable development goals (SDGs), through their new education policies. Problem based Learning (PBL) is one such approach, and has been reported to develop various top skills, as identified by the World Economic Forum. The practice of finding and solving ‘wicked’ problems, i.e., real-world, complex, and uncertain: creatively, so as to have a positive social impact has always been a designerly pursuit, and the key contribution of this paper is to showcase how Design Thinking can be used as a strategy to inculcate PBL into undergraduate education. A collated view of the PBL process, with stages, defined roles, and general guidelines for problem formulation is proposed: based on the empirical findings, from several case studies and workshops, that the South Asian universities require resources that help in practical implementation of the approach. This paper also presents a literature review on the historical development of PBL pedagogy: its definitions, characteristics and learning approaches: comparison with other approaches, such as, project-based and case-based, and its effectiveness in terms of measures and metrices: and discusses the classification of ‘problems’, its types and attributes, and the importance of identification and formulation of the ‘right’ problem to have the right impact with respect to SDGs. Presently, the same is being compiled into a handbook for easy reference and dissemination, and future works entail the evaluation of its effectiveness.

Keywords: Problem based Learning, Design Thinking, Education


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