Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

41st SEFI Conference, 16-20 September 2013, Leuven, Belgium


In this paper we investigate the experiences of first year electrical engineering students of a project-based learning (PBL) module in which students work in groups to design and build a robot to compete in a sumo wrestling competition. The 5 ECTS module is the first PBL module encountered by the students in this programme and is the only module of its kind in first year in which students work in groups and assessment and feedback are based on both process skills and technical knowledge. The module is designed to be student-centred, i.e. the student is encouraged to actively control and manage the learning process, and as such, individual performance in part depends on each student’s expectations of learning engineering and his/her personal epistemology. Design is also a feature of the module: students have the opportunity to design the shape and body of the robot, the electrical circuits for sensors and actuators and the programme that governs the robot’s behaviour.

We decided to explore how our students engage with this PBL module which has been running for several years and is perceived to be well liked by both students and staff. The sumo wrestling competition at the end of the module is a big event in the calendar and students appear to be highly engaged with and motivated to learn in the module. Taking a phenomenological approach, six students were interviewed to develop a description of what it is like to do this module. We present this description before analysing aspects of it informed by the literature on PBL, personal epistemology and design.

The themes that emerged from this exploration relate to the ways students engaged with the module, how they managed their groups, how they approached design, perceived the role of the teacher and their expectations of engineering education.