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Students’ conceptions of project-based learning in engineering education: A phenomenographic inquiry

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 4:15pm – 4:45pm parallel session



Room 7 – 301-G053 Med Chem



Mahbub Hasan
The University of Queensland, Australia

Professor Peter Renshaw
The University of Queensland, Australia

Dr Azharul Karim
Queensland University of Technology, Australia



Research in higher education establishes the relationship between students’ conceptions of learning, approaches to learning environment and learning outcomes. As the project-based method is widely used in engineering education, research is required from the students’ perspectives in determining how students learn in this context and what issues in the learning process need to be addressed.  This study shows the result of a phenomenographic investigation that explored engineering students’ conceptions of project-based learning. Masters level engineering students from a research-intensive university of Australia were included in this study. A phenomenographic research approach was used as a guiding methodology for this study. Twenty students from a master of engineering management course were interviewed. Data analysis was done by following the phenomenographic guidelines. The study revealed that the graduate engineering students understood project-based learning in five different ways: a) as acquiring surface knowledge, b) as gaining practical knowledge/skills, c) as building core concepts, d) as working in a team and e) as focusing on the future job market. These conceptions were further explained with four different dimensions that reflect distinction among all the categories of conceptions. The dimensions of variation in understanding are – a) student role, b) student learning focus, c) collaboration, and d) focal awareness. The outcome space (the final representation of phenomenographic result) informs a hierarchical relationship among different conceptions. This relationship helps students choose a strategy that is not only useful to be successful with academia but also in the future job market.  The result also informs engineering teachers about different ways of approaching students in a project-based learning environment to shape students’ learning from the surface level to a deep level. The result may also be applicable to similar educational and professional contexts.


Presentation topic

Students – Learning

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