Why Challenge-Based Learning: the teacher’s perspective
FROM CONCEPT TO APPLICATION
Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) is an innovative approach to education that emphasizes critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. It encourages students to take an active role in their learning and to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world challenges. In recent years, CBL has gained popularity among educators as a way to engage students and prepare them for the challenges they will face in the 21st century.
To gain insight into the practical aspects of implementing CBL in the classroom, we interviewed three teachers, Isabelle Reymen, Jorge Uquillas Paredes and Miguel Bruns, who have adopted this approach in their teaching. Each of these educators brings a unique perspective and experience to the conversation. They share the struggles and benefits they found in implementing CBL in their classrooms, and offer valuable advice for other teachers interested in adopting this approach. Whether you are an experienced educator or just starting out, their stories are sure to inspire and inform your own teaching practice.
“At the end of the day, it is all about how much students are going to learn with your method. Students have so many things to learn, and you are the one providing them with this knowledge. You must learn to let go and lose control of how much students are going to learn; you need to know how to filter out what is important and what is not.“
Jorge Uquillas Paredes
Medical researcher and Digital Twin in Healthcare Coordinator
Jorge Alfredo Uquillas Paredes, medical researcher at Eindhoven University of Technology, shared in this interview that he is experimenting with CBL in his courses. When asked about the reaction of the students, colleagues, and people around him, he stated that the faculty liked the idea of spicing up a new course with CBL modules. That’s how Jorge had the opportunity to develop an interdisciplinary CBL course, the Digital Twin in Healthcare.
Jorge believes that students need to take ownership and responsibility for their projects in a CBL course, but often, students are not used to that because they come from high schools where they learn, memorize, take an exam, and move on to the next course. Historically, students’ values and intelligence have been represented by grades, which do not necessarily mean or prove their skills and competency. In a CBL course, students are not lectured and only have one manageable midterm. They need to spend many hours designing their plan, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and filling in the gaps in their knowledge. They also need to teach their peers things they know, connect with their external stakeholders (in the case of Digital Twin in Healthcare, clinical liaisons), and keep the challenge owner in the loop. These are mature responsibilities that they are not used to, which makes the beginning of any course chaotic, but it forces students to learn how to deal with uncertainty.
Jorge believes that students grow into these responsibilities, and his CBL course makes students more self-directed. For example, students develop a skill for finding papers, websites, and products for quality research and design. In the vast world of the internet, they need to learn how to discriminate between good and bad data and information. This is how they develop critical thinking.
Jorge continues describing the role of failure in education and research. He believes that failing is more valuable than “getting it right” the first time because real science requires iteration, frustration, and difficulties. In his CBL course, he sees that the progress of the teams is quite heterogeneous. Out of ten teams, two or three can “fly immediately”, but the majority needs more nurturing and help, to learn from their small and big failures.
Jorge considers CBL and hands-on learning as interchangeable because in essence it is all about developing problem-solving skills. Being trained as an engineer and medical specialist, he learns different problem-solving skills daily, which makes him a co-creator and a co-learner, within his own course.
Jorge also acknowledges the concerns about CBL as an educational concept. The quality of outcomes of a CBL course and the student learning are directly proportional to the quality of the teaching and teachers. So, the people who coach and support students, whether teaching assistants, master or PhDs students, need to be properly trained and it is challenging to teach students to guide other students’ teams. Secondly, teachers need to become comfortable with “not knowing” or “not having everything under control”. Teachers need to keep learning about the latest developments in their field and let go of outdated knowledge. If teachers follow this approach, not only it makes sense to revamp and re-engineer courses’ content, but also to update and innovate how the content is develivered, how the teachers teach.
“There is a demand, from society and industry, for engineers capable of interdisciplinary collaboration, with an entrepreneurial mindset and the ability of thinking in systems […]. In our ever changing world, CBL is the educational concept that fulfils many of these demands.”
Scientific director, TU/e innovation Space
In a recent interview with Isabelle Reymen, full professor at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and scientific director of TU/e innovation Space, she discussed the challenges of training students for enhanced employability in the industry, innovating higher education courses and curricula, and her vision for education. Reymen has been involved in teaching for more than 20 years. In 2015, she was asked by the university’s rector and dean to design and set up TU/e innovation Space, which led her to become even more active at TU/e level. Reymen has since initiated many CBL courses, such as ISP: innovation and entrepreneurship, and many education innovation projects, amongst which the University of the Future project.
Reymen started together with Miguel Bruns and Rick the Lange with setting up new interdisciplinary CBL courses in fall 2017. Later, in the Comenius Leadership project, Reymen and her team further shaped CBL based on literature and by involving education scientists.
Reymen has an interest in innovating and designing at system level, and changing the system through small steps. Reymen aims to make education more interdisciplinary and integrate entrepreneurial mindset into it. Reymen wants students to take ownership of their learning and apply their knowledge to real-world situations.
“I wanted my students to follow a very strict design process. I ended up having a lot of unhappy students at that time because they wanted to have their own vision and identity and not mine. Hence, I started to revise and reconsider my procedures. I think one of the most important things is the ability to let go and trust the students within a particular context.”
Theme Lead Interactive Materiality, Future Everyday Group, Industrial Design at TU/e
Miguel Bruns, Associate Professor at TU/e, in this interview talks about his background and journey with CBL. His education and work have focused on designing for the future, which he believes helps him to be open to different perspectives and attitudes. Miguel started his teaching career by being very strict with his students, expecting them to follow a specific design process. He quickly realized that his approach was not successful as it did not allow students to have their own identity and vision. Therefore, he revised his procedures and now focuses on giving responsibility to students and letting them realize that they are studying for themselves, and not to meet some external expectation. Miguel’s advice for teachers transitioning to CBL is to let go of control and focus on supporting students to achieve their own ambitions.
Miguel believes that the most challenging aspect of CBL for teachers is letting go of their responsibility. He explains that a teacher’s responsibility is to support students in achieving students’ ambitions, and if students do not have ambitions, it is not the teacher’s responsibility to help them pass the course. Miguel emphasizes that his focus is on the students who want to learn and are willing to put in the effort to do their best. He argues that students who are willing to learn, regardless of their background, can become “an elite” of life-long learners, in terms of their perspective and competence on the subject matter.
Miguel’s has been the initator of the ISBEP course and within this course and the many others he currently leads, his approach consists of giving students the freedom to explore and experiment and to trust them to operate professionally within a particular context. Miguel’s experience with CBL has taught him that the most important thing is to trust the students and his advice for teachers who are transitioning to CBL is to let go of their preconceptions about learning and teaching and put more responsibility in the students’ hands.
Adopting CBL can be a significant change for educators, particularly if they are used to more traditional teaching methods. It may require rethinking the curriculum, modifying assessments, and providing additional support for students. However, the benefits of CBL far outweigh the struggles. The approach offers a more engaging and relevant learning experience for students and prepares them for success in their future careers. As Jorge, Isabelle and Miguel can testify, this approach can help educators meet the needs of a changing workforce and create a more innovative and dynamic learning environment. While the transition to challenge-based learning may not be easy, it is well worth the effort for the long-term benefits it offers to students and educators alike.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEWS HERE
Hey, this Chiara, Education Designer at TU/e innovation Space. How can I help you?
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