Project-based learning is an essential component of a practical undergraduate course such as engineering. It is useful as a means of giving students the experience of work, in a relatively controlled environment.
It is no secret that students aiming for first-class degrees are generally apprehensive to undertake these modules because of the risk of other students being responsible for a portion of their grade. In this article we expand upon points made in our guide of How To Manage Project-Based Learning Modules.
Upon forming teams at the beginning of the mdoule, it is very important that they form a 'team contract'. The team contract is a set of rules that is decided, and agreed, by all team members.
The contract has the benefit of allowing teams to self-manange right from the offset, thus reducing academic involvement. A further benefit is that everyone in the team is explicitly aware of what is expected and their behaviour will be judged against this later on, if necessary.
If a student is not engaging with their team, it is appropriate to remove them from the team. Again, in the spirit of empowering the teams, you can allow them to 'yellow card' fellow members which will act as a 'first and last strike' policy. Further non-engagement will result in a 'red card' and the student being removed from the team.
It is important to note that the student must have violated the team contract in some indentifiable way, so thorough writing of this document at the beginning of the module is essential.
It is rarely the case that only one student from an entire module will be 'red-carded'; in reality, this will usually be a sufficient number to form a team. In many cases students who have been 'red-carded' from a team will begin to engage with their new team so these do often function well.
In rare cases, students will cease to engage in these groups as well, which will certainly require academic intervention. It is often the case that these students are experiencing issues outside of university that is affecting engagement, and may require pastoral care.
In this article we presented some simple measures to manage non-engaging students in project-based learning mdoules. The intention is to empower students as much as possible and minimise academic intervention.