R. Pucher

University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien (AUSTRIA)
Project Based Learning (PBL) has become a widely used method of teaching in Computer Science. At the University of Applied Sciences PBL is used for more than ten years in various courses. The main objective of PBL was to offer students possibilities to apply their theoretical knowledge to projects. Over the years four different types of projects have been used. The projects can be categorized into projects brought by students themselves and projects offered by the university. Both types of projects can be further separated into projects which do have a real customer and projects which do not have a customer who needs the results. There have been benefits of the methods from the very beginning; however the PBL lessons turned out to be very demanding for teachers. The challenges can be grouped around four major points:

1) Motivation of students to work
2) How can projects be fitted into our rigid system of semesters
3) The four different types of projects cause very different types of difficulties
4) IT Systems to support the communication and administration of the projects

Motivation is difficult to measure and to compare. However our data shows evidence that the motivation of students to work is influenced severely by the type of project. In most cases projects get very high levels of attendance if they have been brought in by the students themselves and if there was a real customer.
Projects which do have real customers do have numerous advantages over projects invented for the purpose of teaching. It is this type of projects where students learn what it means to program for real customers.
One of the main difficulties turned out to be our rigid system of teaching. It is very hard for real life projects to fit into the semester structure of teaching. Furthermore, very different to real life, projects suffer from “timesharing” with other lessons. Project management also turned out to be a challenge. Students are students and no IT professionals. Therefore teachers have to support them in very individual ways, resulting in the need of time assigned to the group.
IT support also turned out to be a major challenge. Students need easy to use platforms to support their teamwork. Teachers need a platform to administrate the projects itself and a platform to support the teaching process itself.