Project-Based Learning in Engineering Cornerstone and Core Courses

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 ( 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm )

Location: Babbio 320, Stevens Institute of Technology

Frances Flanigan, [email protected]

Dr. Stephanie Farrell

Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering

Rowan University


Project-based learning is a learner-centered, constructivist approach to teaching which

offers several advantages over traditional classroom methods. Problem-based learning

(PBL) has been shown to result in better content knowledge, problem solving ability,

metacognitive skills and attitude toward learning [1]. In addition, PBL results in

enhanced communication and teamwork skills, understanding of professional practice,

and ability to apply learning to solve problems [2]. PBL is currently the most popular

pedagogy for teaching design and has also been widely used for first-year cornerstone

courses [3]. Descriptions of PBL in Chemical Engineering core courses are relatively

scarce in the literature. Practically speaking, making the transition to PBL from more

traditional classroom approaches is daunting and unlikely to be accomplished in a single

step. Two models for project-based learning will be described based on the author’s

personal experience teaching Freshman Engineering Clinic and Chemical Reaction

Engineering. The Freshman Engineering model involves a guided approach and is

appropriate for multidisciplinary cornerstone design because it gives students exposure to

a wide variety of engineering topics. A large semester-long design project is integrated

into the Chemical Reaction Engineering course, and its specific role in the course evolved

over several years, moving towards the PBL approach in a stepwise manner. This

stepwise implementation can be mirrored with other projects in other courses.

1. Thomas, J.W., “A review of research on Project-based Learning,” San Rafael, CA:

Autodesk Foundation, 2000.

2. Mills, J.E., and Treagust, D.F., “Engineering Education—Is Problem-Based or Project-

Based Learning the Answer?” Austraaslian Journal of Engineering Education,

3. Dym, C., Agogino, A., Eris, O., Frey, D., and Leifer, L., “Engineering Design

Thinking, Teaching, and Learning,” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 94, No. 1,

2005, pp. 103–120.


Dr. Stephanie Farrell is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rowan

University (USA). She obtained her PhD in Chemical Engineering from New Jersey

Institute of Technology in 1996 and her MS in Chemical Engineering from Stevens in

1992. Prior to joining the faculty at Rowan in 1998, she was an Assistant Professor of

Chemical Engineering and Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Louisiana

Tech University until 1998. Dr. Farrell has made significant contributions to engineering

education through her work in experiential learning. She has been honored by the

American Society of Engineering Education with several teaching awards such as the

2004 National Outstanding Teaching Medal and the 2005 Quinn Award for experiential

learning. She has conducted workshops on a variety of topics including learner-centered

teaching, inductive teaching strategies and the use of experiments and demonstrations to

enhance learning. Dr. Farrell was selected as the 2010 National Effective Teaching

Institute Fellow and co-presented this 2.5 day workshop at the 2010 Annual ASEE