Published on: 25-Feb-2015
Pilot shows team-based learning effective for demanding engineering course
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has implemented a new learning pedagogy for its Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP), Singapore’s number one engineering programme amongst top A-Level students.
Students from the university’s flagship engineering programme that bridges engineering, business and the liberal arts, will be taught using the Team-Based Learning (TBL) pedagogy that engages students in active learning and critical thinking.
The REP which admits the brightest students awards a dual-degree comprising a Bachelor of Engineering Science degree and a post-graduate Master of Science in Technology Management in 4.5 years.
The new pedagogy, which leverages on mobile technology and students learning in small groups in a paperless environment, has been successfully carried out by the Year 1 cohort of 56 REP students in a pilot which started last August.
Three modules have adopted the team-based learning format so far –
Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, Fundamentals of Management, and Mechanics and Structural Engineering I. In all three modules, the students have shown enthusiasm and engagement with the faculty, their team mates, and their classmates.
Following positive feedback from students and faculty members, team-based learning will be officially implemented and ramped up for REP students from the incoming August intake with 30 per cent of the curriculum involving team-based learning.
The university plans to increase this to up to 60 per cent of the REP curriculum taught via team-based learning by 2017.
REP Director, Professor Teoh Swee Hin, said, “The way students learn keeps evolving, thus we are also continuously looking for ways to let them learn better. Team-based learning thrives best in subjects that need discussion. Studies have shown that when students go through team-based learning as opposed to just listening to lectures, the learning outcome is optimised, they retain more knowledge and are able to apply the knowledge effectively when solving engineering problems.”
“We also like how the new approach helps students acquire team-building, critical thinking and communication skills. It also allows us to introduce real engineering cases and scenarios early in the curriculum. It provokes students to challenge the norm and be different,” said Prof Teoh.
NTU is a forerunner in team-based learning at the undergraduate level. The Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine), a partnership between NTU and Imperial College London, had adopted team-based learning since its inception in 2013.
Dr Red Mendoza, Deputy Director for Pedagogical Practice from LKCMedicine, trains faculty members how to use team-based learning for their courses.
“REP did not have to start from scratch when it decided to implement team-based learning. REP benefitted from the LKCMedicine’s experience in implementing the new pedagogy, while allowing it to make its own tweaks and improvements. For example, REP professors have the freedom to design their class within the parameters of team-based learning to suit the demands of a top engineering programme,” said Dr Mendoza who also facilitates LKCMedicine students in their team-based learning sessions.
How the new pedagogy is practised
Team-based learning does away with the typical lecture and tutorial format. Students form groups of five or six in specially designed studios with cluster seating and fitted with multiple TV screens to aid learning.
Each student is equipped with an iPad that allows them to access study materials online at their own time before coming to class. Reading up their course materials in advance allows better use of class time which is spent more on discussion and clarifying of concepts with their classmates and professors.
When they come to class, the students’ individual understanding of a topic is tested via short quizzes, usually in the form of multiple-choice questions.
In their teams, the students then discuss amongst themselves and come up with a group answer to the quiz questions. Vigorous debate takes place as team members justify their answers, with the professors acting as content experts to guide rather than to lead the students in their discussions.
NTU has introduced several improvements to make the team-based learning pedagogy effective in teaching engineering. For example, REP has incorporated laboratory experiments in its application or practical exercises. This is probably the first time that team-based learning has been adopted in an engineering lab setting where students apply key concepts in solving questions.
To ramp up the implementation of team-based learning for the REP, NTU has appointed 33 professors from its various schools who are experts in their respective areas as REP Fellows.
REP Fellow Associate Professor Gan Chee Lip, from the School Of Materials Science and Engineering, taught the Materials and Manufacturing Engineering course to REP students last semester.
“In team-based learning, students do not receive knowledge passively. Instead, we see them learn actively through discussions where they critically defend or question ideas and concepts with their classmates and professors. There is a high level of enthusiasm, engagement and learning taking place which demonstrates the effectiveness of this pedagogy,” said Prof Gan who is also Director of Temasek Laboratories at NTU.
Year One REP student Jonathan Tan who experienced team-based learning for the first time said, “Team-based learning encourages us to prepare our materials beforehand, training us to be independent learners capable of finding and distilling key information to supplement our learning. This adds great value to our education, as team members actively contribute their unique understanding of concepts during discussions.”
Rachel Tan, another Year One REP student, highlighted how the specially designed classrooms help in learning. “In the conventional classroom, students may not have the chance to speak up. Team-based learning creates a free atmosphere for everyone to ask questions. This makes learning more impactful and insightful.”
The implementation of team-based learning is in line with NTU’s goal to inculcate active and socially collaborative approaches to learning. This is in line with the goals of the NTU Education blueprint to produce students with Character, Creativity, Competence, Communication and Civic-Mindedness.
Ang Hui Min
Corporate Communications Office
Nanyang Technological University
About Nanyang Technological University
A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has 33,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and its Interdisciplinary Graduate School. It has a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.
NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).
A fast-growing university with an international outlook, NTU is putting its global stamp on Five Peaks of Excellence: Sustainable Earth, Future Healthcare, New Media, New Silk Road, and Innovation Asia.
Besides its main campus, NTU also has campuses in one-north, Singapore’s science and tech hub, in Novena, Singapore’s medical district, and at Gillman Barracks, Singapore’s contemporary arts cluster.
For more information, visit www.ntu.edu.sg
About Renaissance Engineering Programme
Started in 2011, the Renaissance Engineering Programme is an elite interdisciplinary programme that educates leaders of the future. The programme awards a dual degree comprising a Bachelor of Engineering Science degree (with specialization in a specific engineering discipline) and a Master of Science in Technology Management in 4.5 years.
An integrated, rigorous and fully residential programme, the curriculum covers a broad spectrum of multi-disciplinary subjects bridging Engineering, Business and the Liberal Arts, which includes Sciences, Mathematics, Engineering Technology Management, and interdisciplinary studies. At the end of the programme, students would have possessed the necessary knowledge, skills and attributes within the broader context of engineering science.
REP undergraduates can choose to spend one year at the University of California Berkeley or Imperial College London. They also get the opportunity to intern at companies in the US and in UK. This one-year overseas experience will enhance students' learning experience and equip them with a global outlook.
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