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Problem-based learning in Europe and Asia

Problem-based learning in Europe and Asia

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering of the University of Thessaly (TMY), and in particular the informal Creative Technologies Learning Lab (http://ctll.e-ce.uth.gr), develops active learning interventions that deploy problem-solving methodologies and digital technologies in engineering higher education.
The problem-based approach to learning promotes the development of knowledge and skills through the introduction of solutions to complex problems that are usually inspired by real life. The method offers significant learning advantages. It contributes to the development of fundamental field knowledge as well as soft skills such as critical, analytical, and entrepreneurial thinking and collaboration capacity. Through industry-inspired challenges, it links learning with the world of work facilitating the transition of students from academia to the professional environment and building their ability to transfer new knowledge to real-world design and development processes. Finally, it contributes to the modernisation of higher education through innovative educational design and a transition to the digital era.
Despite the advantages, problem-based learning is not adequately implemented. Reasons that discourage its use include the lack of physical facilities, such as laboratories, lack of access to open educational digital applications and simulations that contribute to exploration and experimentation, and the need to build educators skills in emerging learning methodologies supported by digital technology.
The research project ALIEN: Active Learning in Engineering Education (http://projectalien.eu) aims at the exchange of know-how between 17 universities in Europe and Asia towards developing the capacity of engineering departments in the practical application of problem-centred approaches to learning. The project involves universities from Greece, Portugal, Estonia, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Vietnam, Nepal, Pakistan, and Cambodia.

ALIEN has developed laboratories at 12 universities in Asia that support problem-based learning processes through appropriate digital equipment and a setup that encourages experimentation and contributes to collaboration. In addition, the ALIEN project has developed a digital repository of problem-based learning activities that deploy digital applications, learning games, and simulations. The activities, which apply to polytechnic courses, promote the active engagement of students in learning and increase interaction in the classroom. The repository, which is constantly being enriched, already offers over 200 problems and encourages the reuse of learning content and the creation of new activities from existing ones. Educators can directly use the suggested challenges in their classrooms. They can further be inspired by them for synthesizing new activities or adapt them to the needs of their students. The ALIEN infrastructure is used in real learning scenarios at the 17 participating universities. The goal is its broad deployment in at least 170 courses with the participation of over 1.500 students and 500 educators. Finally, the project promotes the active exchange of good practices in problem-based learning through a series of digital seminars with international participation as well as local events.

The ALIEN project is funded by the Erasmus + Capacity Building in Higher Education program of the European Commission and is implemented from 2017 to 2021.