Project-Based Learning in University Programmes: Getting the Best Out of Formula SAE 2006-01-1046
At Sussex our attempts to introduce Formula SAE were initially slow and the results disappointing. At the same time we were developing and introducing modules in our engineering programmes that were entirely project-based, and in one case, included only e-learning, (with no lectures) after an introductory briefing.
Formula SAE made faltering progress whilst it remained a voluntary activity. Support of a voluntary group by means of individually assessed projects at both undergraduate and masters level simply led to a series of unconnected technologies, although they were to prove of value later.
Project-based activity in engineering had three distinctive characteristics which were to form our approach to Formula SAE: the need for a strong team ethos from the start of the project; an acceptance of the importance of process, and in particular project planning; and strong communication. Once students connected success in their degree programme with a successful car, the project was much livelier. Team morale and provision of sufficient incentives was still needed, since it was technically possible for students to gain a reasonable grade for the project and not complete the car.
Our overall conclusions from this first phase of introduction of project-based learning include:
that project-based learning is by no means a universal panacea but is particularly helpful to students in building process skills and applying generic knowledge
they are expensive to operate and require more (but less structured) time from faculty members
students have a very mixed experience but generally finished ‘on a high’.
Of all the issues we confronted, by far the most difficult is assessment of individuals in teams.