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Dr Thea Morgan

Developing novel pedagogical approaches to support project-based-learning design experiences in engineering design education

My research focuses on the development of pedagogical approaches that enable reflection during project-based-learning (PBL) design experiences in engineering deisgn education. During episodes of experiential learning, such as group PBL in engineering design education, students construct new knowledge (that is they learn) by reflecting on their lived experience. More accurately, they reflect on their ‘perceptions’ of that experience, meaning that the prior experience, knowledge, and worldview of the students will have a strong influence on the outcomes of learning from experience. The cognitive structure of engineering design students is heavily influenced by the positivist paradigm of engineering science, and so many students may struggle to learn, or not be open to learning, from experiential design projects, because the constructivist paradigm that underpins this type of learning is not in accord with their cognitive structure.

We need to find a way to sufficiently alter the cognitive structure of engineering design students, to encourage an openness to learning design experientially, and to reflect on that learning. In other words, the aim is to emancipate engineering design students from a restrictive worldview about the nature of knowledge and its acquisition. Current issues in engineering design education appear to relate to the reduced ability of students to reflect on personal design activity, based on a lack of understanding of the differences between design and science at a philosophical level. Current approaches to learning and assessment in engineering design do not reveal the underlying paradigms and paradoxes of engineering design education, and therefore limit the ability of students to reflect on their own experiential learning. The students effectively experience an ‘epistemological block to reflection’.  

Research keywords

  • Project-based-learning
  • Engineering design education
  • Philosophy of design
  • Design methods and processes
  • Complexity