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Cooperative learning and problem-based learning: are they effective for Malaysian chemical engineering undergraduates?

Publication Date
  • T Technology (General)
  • Chemistry
  • Communication
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics


In today's global and highly competitive economy, industries demand that engineering graduates are not only equipped with mastery of knowledge, but also generic or "soft" skills. Engineering educators around the globe are currently pressured to produce graduates who are savvy in both. A blend of both attributes would equip graduating engineers with critical thinking and problem solving skills, continuous self-learning abilities, and teamwork and communication skills. In engineering education, there has been a lot of research and application in active learning, particularly cooperative learning (CL), to help students learn and understand more effectively as well as inculcate generic skills in students. Problem-based learning (PBL) has also been recommended and implemented in engineering, particularly because it promotes deep learning and problem-solving skills. Both methodologies are being wildly used in North America, Europe and other parts of the world to enhance learning and develop generic skills in students. Since these techniques require active participation of students to be successful, can they be as effective in the Malaysian scenario, given our more passive and laid-back culture? To discover the applicability of CL and PBL on local students, a blend of both techniques were implemented in a subject that is labelled as a "killer" subject by Chemical Enngineering undergraduates in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. The subject, Process Dynamics and Control, is considered by many to be difficult because it requires students to combine their knowledge in chemical engineering and mathematics. In a lecture-based class, the number of failures is high and the passing marks are low, no matter who teaches the subject. This paper describes the detailed implementation and the outcome of combining CL and PBL in the Process Dynamics and Control class. Although the lecturers had doubts initially that the techniques might fail because of our culture, these doubts evaporated almost immediately upon implementation. On the part of the students, despite their initial resistance and anxieties, the results showed improvements in both mastery of knowledge and generic skills. which indicates that both CL and PBL can be effective in the Malaysian scene.

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