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    Project Based Learning in Engineering – Where Do We Stand

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    1 : Project Based Learning in Engineering – Where Do We Stand?   Dr. Chellapilla Kameswara Rao Principal, Tirumala Engineering College, Bogaram(V), Keesara(M), Hyderabad – 501301, chellapilla95@gmail.com
    2 : Engineering Education and Market Requirements Engineering graduates need to be equipped with the right kind of skills to become employable and , Not only get campus placements but also succeed in the workplace after joining the company which has selected them on the campus. The developing market requirements world over in computer assisted and internet enabled service industry is bringing home to students the need to take personal responsibility for developing the required skills Also obtain attributes that will help make them become employable and immensely satisfy their employers by making them competitive in their market segments. Markets are also teaching them the necessity of presenting themselves and what they can offer to a prospective employer well.
    3 : Mini Projects and Main Projects We have introduced project based learning through mini projects, seminar presentations and final year full semester industry related projects in several of the Universities, But the basic objectives (?) are not being pursued seriously We are left with rampant plagiarism and project reports being bought for a price Is this not smacking at the high ideals and goals of such an enterprise expected to be carried out with care at all universities and engineering colleges.
    4 : Market Requirements Skills Gap: Workforce Implications Lower skilled or less technologically knowledgeable people will be the hardest hit. The concept of lifetime employment will be replaced by lifetime employability.
    5 : Skills Gap: Skills and Abilities in the Knowledge Economy Basic skills: Reading, Writing, and Mathematics Foundation: Knowing how to learn Communications: Listening and oral communication Adaptability: Creative thinking and problem solving skills Applied Skills: Occupational and professional Competencies
    6 : Knowledge Economy Skills and Abilities Lacking in the present work force Basic skills: Reading, Writing, and Mathematics Foundation: Knowing how to learn Communications: Listening and oral communication Adaptability: Creative thinking and problem solving skills Applied Skills: Occupational and professional Competencies
    7 : Quality Guidance & Supervision Essential Many employers such as Infosys, IBM and Wipro are trying their best to educate the institutions on the pitfalls existing in the supervision and execution of these industry related mini and major projects and also the technical seminars being organized at these institutions. This paper brings forth the concerns about serious lapses occurring in supervising the project based learning in several universities and their affiliate engineering colleges in India In author’s opinion lack of quality guidance and supervision on this important project based learning is ultimately resulting in lowering of the quality of engineering education in India.
    8 : Mini and Major Projects: Learning Objectives Learning around projects is the basic idea behind Project-based learning (PBL). According to the definitions found in PBL handbooks for teachers [1-3], all types of projects being undertaken in a real time environment are complex tasks. They involve obtaining solutions for challenging questions or problems, that make students taking part in design, problem-solving, decision making, or investigative activities; Problem-based learning employs open-ended problems which incidentally increase student motivation and interaction ensuring prospective achievement of intended educational goals. For development of software products, we need to adopt an extension of collaborative problem-based learning by focusing on the design and development of a product as a solution to a proposed problem. These things well pursued give students an opportunity to work relatively autonomously over extended periods of time resulting in some realistic products or presentations .
    9 : No Specific Guidelines on these Projects The various live engineering projects being taken up in the hi-tech industry are not even peripherally included in the present AU or OU or JNTU engineering curriculum Live industrial projects need a lot of extended reading and assimilation of concepts about new technologies that are brought into the international market There is an urgent need for the internal project guides to recognize these facts before keeping the objectives that can be achieved by the project group students Specified period of six weeks for the mini-project and a little over three months for the final end semester major industry based project While carrying out these projects, the students encounter and learn entirely new and central concepts of the engineering discipline via the project. In most of the instances project works are quite new and challenging and are not generally covered in the curriculum . However, these so called implementation and application projects make the students learn things that can be termed as "enrichment" projects.
    10 : Project Definition & Abstract As a matter of fact, the definition of the project must bring an appropriate connection between activities and the underlying conceptual knowledge that one might hope to capture during the execution of the project. This is usually done with deep driving questions or a well defined interdisciplinary problem. Alternatively, the projects may be built around thematic units or as intersection topics from two or more disciplines, but that may not be sufficient in defining a real time live project. The concepts and the questions that the students have to pursue, as well as the activities to be carried out, products to be understood and utilized in designing the systems required for the project implementation, and tests and performance that occupy their time, which must be exhibited in the execution of an important intellectual purpose such as bringing the project to a logical end as per the scope of work laid out in the project abstract.  
    11 : Basics of Project Selection and Process of Execution As a general rule, projects have to be so designed to involve students in a constructive investigation. An investigation is a goal-directed process that involves a lot of inquiry, necessary associated knowledge building and resolution of the problems involved with appropriate cutting edge technologies available in the international market. Investigations may involve activities such as design, decision-making, problem-finding, problem-solving, discovery, or model-building processes. They must also involve the transformation and construction of knowledge on the part of students. If the central activities of the project represent no difficulty to the student or can be carried out with the application of already-learned information or skills, the project becomes just a tutorial or a futile exercise and can never serve the basic purpose for which it is intended to be undertaken.
    12 : Where Do We Stand Today? The projects being undertaken in various engineering colleges should be student-driven to a greater extant. As per the project based learning concepts detailed in the earlier paragraphs, projects are not, in the main, teacher-led, scripted, or packaged. Laboratory exercises and instructional booklets are not examples of this type of learning material, even though they are problem-focused and some how even distantly related to the curriculum. These projects should not end up at predetermined outcomes or take predetermined paths and should incorporate a good deal more student autonomy, choice, unsupervised work time, and responsibility than traditional instruction like what happens in a traditional project.
    13 : Internet Resources for Live Projects This category of projects should be realistic and should not be tutorial-like. Projects should embody characteristics that give the students who have completed the projects on their own a feeling of authenticity and command on the subject topic and the concepts involved. The associated computer Sotware Code developed for implementing the project should have been solely and independently written, compiled and executed by the students. Many a time complete source codes and even complete documentation is available on various technology related projects on plenty of student community websites such as projectparadise.com, seminarprojects.com, btechguru.com, 1000projects.com, enggprojecttopics.blogspot.com, or pdfebooksreader.com etc. Lot of MS thesis are available free of cost from various University websites and only necessary awareness and capability should exist in the students pursuing such innovative and challenging projects. Added to the above lot of patent information and data from US and Europe are available for downloading and study free of cost from freepatentsonline.com and as we all know 70% of the world latest technology rests in the patents granted by these developed countries. There exists a lack of knowledge and capability in patent literacy in engineering educational institutions. This fund of knowledge is not tapped properly and engineering faculty and students stay in darkness in terms of not knowing where to look for details of latest technologies. Freepatentsonline.com gives access to US and European patents granted and Applications.
    14 : Sorry State of Affairs in PBL Some college managements and money-hungry heads of departments of engineering colleges are developing illegitimate relationships with the ever increasing and mushrooming commercial institutes in around these colleges, claiming to have all necessary expertise to give excellent guidance in the so-called “live projects” in several of the engineering disciplines. The present author has surveyed and personally examined quite a good number of such institutes which turned out to be tutorial type of instruction giving institutes with crude or no in-depth knowledge on the subject. They claim names of some experts working in reputed industries for guiding these projects but in reality this is all proving to be untrue and in this process the students are the ultimate losers. The managements and HODs get some monetary share and fill their pockets in this process. If we look at some of the reports and documentation given to the students by these commercial project guiding institutes, you will find them to be copy-pasted material from internet websites with no proper citation details. This is nothing but rampant plagiarism as no single sentence in these reports are written in own words and citations and references do not even exist and even if they exist they are incomplete and absurd. One can easily check on this plagiarism using free websites such as plagiarismchecker.com.
    15 : Distortion of Basics and Encouragement of Short-Cut Methods Students expect good marks in the final project viva examinations but they fail to get the same as they are not properly guided towards getting a command over what they were expected to do as project. In many engineering institutions a very casual approach exists on execution and supervision of these mini and major projects and plagiarized reports and power point presentations are simply allowed by the heads of the departments. Bribing the external examiners with fat honorarium or bringing favorable experienced and expert examiners from nearby institutions the people at the helm of affairs ensure students getting good marks for these projects. Where are we heading to with all these activities not being checked by these so called world class Universities. Quality rests in the process we adopt and it will not come on its own. Do not we feel hurt in accepting this situation without seriously motivated to do some course correction immediately wherever possible.
    16 : Reasons for Poor Quality One of the reasons as I understand for the poor quality of turned out engineering graduates lies in Universities leaving undefined the scope and extant to which these projects are to be pursued by the students of engineering. Some rudimentary rules like basis for the projects to be undertaken as an IEEE paper, should have coding and implementation for software projects or hardware display kits for ECE or EEE projects has done lot of harm as these things have become easy commercially available material churned out by the commercial institutes from the downloaded internet web material supplied to students for a hefty price running into thousands of rupees. In many instances these display kits are not being designed or assembled by the project group in the institution or college but has been obtained as ready-made bought-out item from the streets of Afzal Gunj in Hyderabad to give one such example.
    17 : IEEE Paper and Display Kits?! Many such ready-made display-kits material will be made available for students on lease from these commercial institutes for a price. What is it that a student of engineering can learn from such mockery of project based learning? How can these institutions shamelessly claim international standards and quality in their engineering education with such a rampant corruption of standards at project guidance level? Is this not the basic reason for the low employability of our engineers in the international job market? Please let us examine these aspects without adopting our well-known defensive approach, but coolly and thoroughly and do something that is possible in the near term in this direction, as this trend if allowed to be continued for long, will result in crippling our educational system very badly in the near future.
    18 : Internet Search Needs to be Taught Internet Search is not as easy as it is understood by people. Information Retrieval is a science by itself and needs to be taught to students. Fundamental aspects and basic training needs to included in some course in third year study so that
    19 : Heads and Internal Guides Should Take Responsibility Heads of Departments should take responsibility and prepare the students to take up projects in the College itself. Outside Expertise can be allowed to help them in undertaking challenging Live Projects in the College. Students should be encouraged to work on their own with supportive Lab Equipment and Software established in the college.
    20 : References 1] Thomas,J.W., “A Review of Research on Project Based Learning”, at www.autodesk.com/foundation, March 2000. 2] “Future Fit – Preparing Graduates for the world of Work “, CBI-The Voice of Business, Universities UK, See for details on www.cbi.org.uk/highereducation , March 2009. 3] 43/99 PBLE – Project Based Learning in Engineering, “ A Guide to Learning Engineering Through Projects”, University of Nottingham, At www.pble.ac.uk , November 2003. 4] Ragan, Eric D., Frezza Stephen and Cannel Jeremy., “Project-Based Learning in Software Engineering Education”, Paper No. MFC, 39th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, October 18-21, 2009.

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