WHY DO STUDENTS ENROLLED IN MULTIDISCIPLINARY PROJECTS PERCEIVE A HIGHER WORKLOAD THAN THOSE ENROLLED IN UNIDISCIPLINARY ONES?

In the second year of the Bachelors’ Degree in Agrifood and Rural Engineering (DARE) at Universitat Jaume I a total of 10 subjects are taught, five each semester. Most of them include as teaching method the elaboration of a co-operative project. In 2011, we modified the four unidisciplinary projects corresponding to the four subjects of the second semester, namely: “Crop Protection”, “Ecology and Environmental Impact”, “Business” and “Topography” in a single multidisciplinary one. We designed this unique project using the Project-Based learning (PBL) method. Through three academic years, we have modified the project based on the increasing experience gained by lecturers and students’ feedback. In the 2014-2015 academic year, we incorporated previous year feed-back, mainly team working seminars, common tutorials, meeting minutes, and evaluable pre-deliverables. Furthermore, student satisfaction and workload perception were compared between students participating in the multidisciplinary project (those enrolled in the four subjects) and those in unidisciplinary ones (students enrolled either in Topography and/or Crop Protection). In addition, we gathered the same information from a unidisciplinary project developed in the first semester (Plant Physiology). In all cases, we requested peer evaluation between team members. Our main goal was to achieve the integration of the different subjects involved, to improve learning skills, and to increase satisfaction among students.

The results of this study show that students’ satisfaction with the multidisciplinary project was high but the workload perception as well, probably due to their inexperience with ECTS. Students identified non-contact hours assigned to the project development as extra-work not included in the credits of the subject. Furthermore, when these results were compared with those obtained with unidisciplinary projects, we realized that students had slightly different workload perceptions depending on the subject, being lower for Topography. Despite the higher workload attributed to the multidisciplinary project, which also seemed to imply a higher workload to prepare the exam, both the project and the first call marks were higher than in the unidisciplinary projects. Peer evaluation was independent of multidisciplinary or unidisciplinary work and mainly depend on the affinity between the different team members and team size. We discuss future improvements focused on reducing perceived workload as there are no clear quantitative evidences that multidisciplinary projects require higher workload than the sum of the equivalent four unidisciplinary projects.