Universitat Rovira i Virgili (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2009 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Pages: 2325-2335
ISBN: 978-84-613-2953-3
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 2nd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2009
Location: Madrid, Spain
An educational model is currently under implementation in the School of Chemical Engineering (ETSEQ) at the University Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona, Spain) to enable Biotechnology students to integrate technical knowledge encompassing social skills (teamwork, cooperation, planning, decision making, problem-solving abilities, communication skills…). This model is based on the deployment of a project-based cooperative learning approach across the Biotechnology curriculum (1st, 2nd and 3rd courses). In all courses classical teaching, experimental and virtual laboratories and CAPE tools had to be coordinated to solve an open-ended project (i.e. with many valid approaches and different proper solutions). A similar model has been successfully implemented for more than a decade in the Chemical Engineering curriculum.
Additionally, two assessment teams (SOS-Biotech and GAP-Biotech) is helping to analyze the advantages and pitfalls of the project-based learning methodology applied. Both assessing teams detected some malfunctions and they propose (and implement) actions to facilitate the success, as for example the preparation of the project overview statement, an inquiry to the students, meeting with the instructor team, periodic meetings with the project coordinator, development of protocols... In this way, hands-on teamwork training has been implemented through specific seminars consisting of modules (3 hours each). These modules deal with different teamwork-related issues as, leadership, team capabilities, common purpose, team norms, communication, conflicts, team operating procedures, member integration or team evaluation. These activities are distributed across the curricula, considering a long-term deployment. The activities are organised with optional attendance; nevertheless our experience is that 80% of students follow these modules, which may be used as official credits.
The training in non-technical capabilities helps our students to set the pattern to become successful life-long learners. Student's main objections to the project-based cooperative learning approach were the excessive time devoted to the project and they demand more effort in supervising. We realize that, as students are not used to this kind of teaching, at the beginning of the project more continuous help and guidance is needed than in traditional teaching methodologies. However, the lack of information forces students to use their own initiative to solve the open-ended problems. Obviously, we do not expect students magically develop their entire individual potential within this three-years project, but we expect (and see) some progress.
Preliminary results in biotechnology show that student attendance has increased and that drop out has decreased. Undergraduate students are involved, enhance understanding, improve retention, become proficient in problem solving, self-directed learning, build decision criteria and team participation (cooperate rather than compete). The academic staff also need to improve their performance as a teamwork model role for students. To sum-up, our opinion is that the benefits of the course largely make up for the tremendous effort required.

project-based learning, problem solving, open-ended problems.