K. Khalaf1, W. Newstetter2

1Khalifa University (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
2Georgia Institute of Technology (UNITED STATES)
As one of the preferred methods of anchored instruction, in which learning occurs through constructing a solution to complex, ill structured problems, problem-based learning (PBL) is progressively gaining popularity in western engineering education. The recent infusion of inductive learning pedagogical models, including PBL, in many U.S. engineering schools was mainly motivated by industry’s need for engineers who are not only technically proficient in their respective domains, but who also have non-routine problem-solving, critical and system thinking, communication, and life-long learning skills. The need for engineers with skills and competencies to handle the complex challenges of the 21st has prompted many education stakeholders in the U.S. and the West to question the effectiveness of the traditional deductive “passive lecture” model, and adopt inductive, student-centred learning models, such as PBL, towards promoting these critical competencies.
Research shows that the gap between engineering education and industrial practice, and the inadequate preparation of engineers in key competencies, in fact, extend internationally. These challenges in developing countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have more severe implications, given that the industrial sector is in its infancy, and hence has an amplified need for problem solvers, critical thinkers, and independent learners.
Inspired by the success of the PBL model in Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech. (GT) in Atlanta, a collaborative effort went into the design and development of a PBL introductory biomedical engineering course at Khalifa University (KU) in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Although the core of the PBL problems and scaffolding approach were adopted from GT, as well as the general course structure, the open-ended, ill-structured problems were specifically designed to “custom–fit” KU and the UAE culture. The topics were carefully selected based on cultural and societal relevance, emphasizing current health challenges in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, such as diabetes type II, cardiovascular disease, and trauma. On the other hand, certain topics used at GT such us HIV, breast cancer, and drug abuse were avoided for cultural reasons and societal constraints.
While the cognitive apprenticeship inherent to PBL was found to provide an authentic learning engagement more or less similar to the one at GT, this learning approach, the first of its kind in the UAE, presented unique challenges and opportunities. This work reports on the mechanics of the PBL pedagogical model transfer across cultures in the context of encountered challenges and opportunities, and adjustment in order to optimize the common learning outcomes.