Engineering Students’ Approaches to Learning and Views on Collaboration: How do both Evolve in a PBL Environment and What are their Contributing and Constraining Factors?
Xiangyun Du 1  
Usama Ebead 2
Saed Sabah 1
Jianping Ma 3
More details
Hide details
College of Education, Qatar University, QATAR
College of Engineering, Qatar University, QATAR
Graduate School, Lanzhou University of Technology, CHINA
Online publish date: 2019-05-27
Publish date: 2019-05-27
EURASIA J. Math., Sci Tech. Ed 2019;15(11):em1774
This study investigated the development of engineering students’ approaches to learning and views on collaboration in a PBL environment.

Material and methods:
An explanatory mixed research approach was employed with participants from four PBL-implementing engineering courses in Qatar and China. 197students responded to two surveys, and 168 students participated in group interviews.

While the study reveals increased adoption of deep approaches to learning on team projects, little influence on surface approaches to learning was found. The study also provides evidence supporting the positive relationship between students’ adoption of deep learning approaches and their acknowledgement of values of collaboration in teamwork.

This study suggests that while PBL characteristics may support deep learning, certain factors may underpin surface learning, including a feeling of insecurity during first experiences with it, lack of skills, and assessment methods that favor surface learning. Further efforts on engaging students with PBL may benefit both deep learning and team effectiveness.

Al Said, R. S., Du, X., ALKhatib, H. A. H., Romanowski, M. H., & Barham, A. I. I. (2019). Math Teachers’ Beliefs, Practices, and Belief Change in Implementing Problem Based Learning in Qatari Primary Governmental School. EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 15, 5.
Asikainen, H., & Gijbels, D. (2017). Do students develop towards more deep approaches to learning during studies? A systematic review on the development of students’ deep and surface approaches to learning in higher education. Educational Psychology Review, 29(2), 205-234.
Baeten, M., Kyndt, E., Struyven, K., & Dochy, F. (2010). Using student-centred learning environments to stimulate deep approaches to learning: Factors encouraging or discouraging their effectiveness. Educational Research Review, 5(3), 243-260.
Beddoes, K. D., Jesiek, B. K., & Borrego, M. (2010). Identifying opportunities for collaborations in international engineering education research on problem-and project-based learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 4(2), 3.
Biggs, J. B. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
Borrego, M., Karlin, J., McNair, L. D., & Beddoes, K. (2013). Team effectiveness theory from industrial and organizational psychology applied to engineering student project teams: A research review. Journal of Engineering Education, 102(4), 472-512.
Case, J., & Marshall, D. (2004). Between deep and surface: procedural approaches to learning in engineering education contexts. Studies in Higher Education, 29(5), 605-615.
Chan, C. K., & Chan, Y. Y. (2011). Students’ views of collaboration and online participation in Knowledge Forum. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1445-1457.
Chiocchio, F., & Essiembre, H. (2009). Cohesion and performance: A meta-analytic review of disparities between project teams, production teams, and service teams. Small Group Research, 40(4), 382-420.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2013). Research methods in education. Routledge.
Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2017). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Sage Publications.
De Clercq, M., Galand, B., & Frenay, M. (2013). Chicken or the egg: longitudinal analysis of the causal dilemma between goal orientation, self-regulation and cognitive processing strategies in higher education. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 39(1), 4-13.
Dinsmore, D., & Alexander, P. A. (2012). A critical discussion of deep and surface processing: what it means, how it is measured, the role of context, and model specification. Educational Psychology Review, 24(4), 499-567.
Dochy, F., Segers, M., Van den Bossche, P., & Gijbels, D. (2003). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis. Learning and Instruction, 13(5), 533-568.
Dolmans, D., Loyens, S., Marcq, H., & Gijbels, D. (2016). Deep and surface learning in problem-based learning: a review of the literature. Advances in Health Science Education, 21(5), 1087-1112.
Du, X., Cyprian, F. S., Kassab, S. E., Al-Moslih, A. M., Abu-Hijleh, M. F., & Hamdy, H. (2019). Identifying essential competencies for medical schools. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education.
Du, X., Emmersen, J., Toft, E., & Sun, B. (2013). PBL and Critical Thinking Disposition in Chinese Medical Students--A Randomized Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of problem based Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 72-83.
Du, X., Massoud, W., Al-Banna, N. A., Al-Moslih, A. M., Abu-Hijleh, M. F., Hamdy, H., & Cyprian, F. S. (2016). Preparing foundation-year students for medical studies in a problem-based learning environment: Students׳ perceptions. Health Professions Education, 2(2), 130-137.
Du, X., Su, L., & Liu, J. (2013). Developing sustainability curricula using the PBL method in a Chinese context. Journal of Cleaner Production, 61, 80-88.
Entwistle, N. (2009). Teaching for understanding at university. Deep approaches and distinctive ways of thinking. England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Entwistle, N. J. (1991). Approaches to learning and perceptions of the learning environment. Higher Education, 22(3), 201-204.
Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2003). Designing and teaching courses to satisfy the ABET engineering criteria. Journal of Engineering Education, 92(1), 7-25.
He, Y., Du, X., Toft, E., Zhang, X., Qu, B., Shi, J., ... & Zhang, H. (2018). A comparison between the effectiveness of PBL and LBL on improving problem-solving abilities of medical students using questioning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 55(1), 44-54.
Heikkilä, A., & Lonka, K. (2006). Studying in higher education: students’ approaches to learning, self‐regulation, and cognitive strategies. Studies in Higher Education, 31(1), 99-117.
Helle, L., Tynjälä, P., & Olkinuora, E. (2006). Project-based learning in post-secondary education–theory, practice and rubber sling shots. Higher Education, 51(2), 287-314.
Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2012). International perspectives on problem-based learning: Contexts, cultures, challenges, and adaptations. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 6(1), 3.
Hmelo-Silver, C. E., & Barrows, H. S. (2006). Goals and Strategies of a Problem-based Learning Facilitator. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 1(1).
Kember, D., Biggs, J., & Leung, D. Y. (2004). Examining the multidimensionality of approaches to learning through the development of a revised version of the Learning Process Questionnaire. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(2), 261-279.
Kolmos, A., & de Graaff, E. (2014). Problem-based and project-based learning in engineering education: merging models. In A. Johri, & B. M. Olds (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research (pp. 141-161). Cambridge University Press.
Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). Interview. Hans Reitzel.
Lehmann, M., Christensen, P., Du, X., & Thrane, M. (2008). Problem-oriented and project-based learning (POPBL) as an innovative learning strategy for sustainable development in engineering education. European journal of engineering education, 33(3), 283-295.
Loyens, S. M. M., Gijbels, D., Coertjens, L., & Cote ́, D. (2013). Students’ approaches to learning in problem-based learning: Taking into account students’ behavior in the tutorial groups, self-study time, and different assessment aspects. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 39(1), 23-32.
Magnell, M., Geschwind, L., & Kolmos, A. (2017). Faculty perspectives on the inclusion of work-related learning in engineering curricula. European Journal of Engineering Education, 42(6), 1038-1047.
Marton, F. & Saljo, R. (1976a). On qualitative differences in learning: I—outcome and process. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 4-11.
Marton, F. & Saljo, R. (1976b). On qualitative differences in learning: II. Outcome as a function of the learner’s conception of the task, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 115-127.
Newble, D. I., & Clarke, R. M. (1986). The approaches to learning of students in a traditional and in an innovative problem‐based medical school. Medical Education, 20(4), 267-273.
Phan, H. P. (2011). Interrelations between self-efficacy and learning approaches: a developmental approach. Educational Psychology, 31(2), 225-246.
Postareff, L., Parpala, A., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2015). Factors contributing to changes in a deep approach to learning in different learning environments. Learning Environments Research, 1–19.
Prince, M. J., & Felder, R. M. (2006). Inductive teaching and learning methods: Definitions, comparisons, and research bases. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), 123-138.
Prosser, M., & Sze, D. (2014). Problem-based learning: student learning experiences and outcomes. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 28(1-2), 131-142.
Prosser, M., & Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding learning and teaching: the experience in higher education. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education.
Qatar University (QU). (2018). Qatar University Strategic Plan 2018–2022. Retrieved on March 12th, 2018 from
Sabah, S., & Du, X. (2018). University faculty’s perceptions and practices of student centered learning in Qatar: Alignment or gap? Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 10(4), 514-533.
Saravanamuthu, K., & Yap, C. (2014). Pedagogy to empower Chinese learners to adapt to western learning circumstances: a longitudinal case-study. Cambridge Journal of Education, 44(3), 361-384.
Scardamalia, M. (2002). Collective cognitive responsibility for the advancement of knowledge. In B. Smith (Ed.), Liberal education in a knowledge society (pp. 67-98). Chicago, IL: Open Court.
Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge building: theory, pedagogy, and technology. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 97-119). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schmidt, H. G., Van der Molen, H. T., Te Winkel, W. W., & Wijnen, W. H. (2009). Constructivist, problem-based learning does work: A meta-analysis of curricular comparisons involving a single medical school. Educational Psychologist, 44(4), 227-249.
Schultz, N., & Christensen, H. P. (2004). Seven-step problem-based learning in an interaction design course. European Journal of Engineering Education, 29(4), 533-541.
Scouller, K. (1998). The influence of assessment method on students’ learning approaches: Multiple choice question examination versus assignment essay. Higher Education, 35(4), 453-472.
Stahl, G. (2000). A model of collaborative knowledge-building. In B. Fishman & S. O’Connor-Divelbiss (Eds.), Fourth international conference of the learning sciences (pp. 70-77). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Strobel, J., & Van Barneveld, A. (2009). When is PBL more effective? A meta-synthesis of meta-analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), 4.
Trigwell, K., & Prosser, M. (1991). Relating approaches to study and quality of learning outcomes at the course level. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 61(3), 265-275.
Zhao, K., & Zheng, Y. (2014). Chinese Business English students’ epistemological beliefs, self-regulated strategies, and collaboration in project-based learning. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 23(2), 273-286.
Zhao, K., Zhang, J., & Du, X. (2017). Chinese business students’ changes in beliefs and strategy use in a constructively aligned PBL course. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(7), 785-804.