Developing engineering students' skills in project management through business-informed coaching, project-based learning and targeted interdisciplinarity

Project Leader: Dr Elaine Khoo
Research Team: Professor Jonathan Scott, Professor Mike Duke, Professor David McKie & Professor Bronwen Cowie

Project Dates: January 2018 - December 2018

Partnerships: Funded by the University of Waikato Research Trust Contestable Fund 2018

What was the aim of the research?

The project introduced and researched an innovative interdisciplinary teaching and assessment approach to develop student’s project-management skills in two advanced project-based/problem-based (PBL) engineering courses (ENEL417 and ENEL380). PBL has been shown to develop the range of competencies and attributes engineering graduates required to face complex and uncertain workplace demands (Kolmos & de Graaff, 2014). This approach was systematically introduced at our University’s School of Engineering. To complete problem-based tasks students needed to successfully employ engineering and project management knowledge and skills.

The teaching and assessment innovation required students to provide regular reports and received feedback from a tutor from a Management background about the progress of their projects. The tutor offered insights and support students’ progress and management of their project to meet their learning goals more effectively and efficiently (more so than in past years) during the reporting and feedback sessions. As the tutor did not have any engineering technical understanding, students were required to communicate their engineering concepts akin to how they were required to do so when they worked as engineers on real-life work projects involving interactions with potential clients from diverse backgrounds. An initial trial of the innovation was conducted in 2017 evidencing student learning and becoming more aware of important project-management skills (see the reported findings).

Why was this research important?

The teaching and assessment innovation developed and researched is authentic in that it had the capacity to problem solve and communicate clearly in engineering working environments, so too is the ability to work in a team (Khoo, Zegwaard, Adam, Peter, & Cowie, 2017). It  functioned as a formative assessment and learning tool. Working in these two courses allowed us to test out the idea in different areas of engineering, with different lecturers and with students with different levels of expertise.

The project team obtained lecturer, tutor and students’ perceptions of the teaching and assessment task through surveys and interviews, and highlight any suggestion for enhancing the assessment innovation. The extent the assessment innovation was effective in facilitating students’ developing management skills as part of their project-based work is of interest.

Who  benefited from the research?

The findings from this research:

1. Lead to a better understanding of ways of strengthening project-based teaching and learning by including consideration of management communication principles as part of students’ professional competencies.

2. Identified the value of cross-disciplinary support for student learning that is multi-disciplined.

3. Strengthened cross-faculty interdisciplinary research collaboration across Education, Management and Engineering. No such initiative has been undertaken on campus.

4. Benefited both staff and students learning from across the disciplines and paved the way for potential closer collaborations. This initiative can disseminate practice ideas for other lecturers/ programme designers and leaders involved in PBL across the university/different tertiary contexts.

5. Informed wider understandings of how cross-disciplinary initiatives could develop professional competencies important for graduate work-readiness. This aligned with the future-focused curriculum ideas proposed in our University’s Curriculum Enhancement Project (CEP) to be responsive to changing student employment and societal needs.

Publications/Project Outputs

Khoo, E.., Scott, J. B., McKie, D., & Cowie, B. (2018 in press). Fostering project management competencies in undergraduate engineering: An exploration of the use of management-educated tutors as coaches in problem-based learning. In Proceedings of the 29th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education. Hamilton, New Zealand: Engineers Australia.

Scott, J. B., Khoo, E.., Cree, M. J, & Seshadri, S. (2017). Assessment of Self-Management Skills in a Project-Based Learning Paper. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education. Sydney, Australia: Engineers Australia. Available at

Scott, J. B., Khoo, E.., Cree, M. J, & Seshadri, S. (2017, November). Using management students as markers in engineering project papers. Paper presented at Learnfest2017, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from