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Margrethe holm andersen globelics secretariat and department of business and management aau

Problem based learning as a tool to expand innovation and development research capacity in east africanuniversities

Margrethe holm andersen

Globelics secretariat and

Department of Business and management, AAU

Open symposium, College of engineering and technology, university of dares salaam,, 2014

My background
My background

  • Master in public administration (1988 from Aalborg University, PBL-based) and Ph.D. (1992) focused on women´spolitical participation in Tanzania

  • 20+ years of experience from developmentcooperation, including 15 years in Danida/the Danish Ministry of ForeignAffairs; worked for 7 years with evaluationof developmentcooperation.

  • Lived5 years in Tanzania and 2 ½ years in Nicaragua; numerous short term missions to differentAfricancountries and somecountriesin Asia and LA

  • Recentlyjoined Globelics Secretariat/Aalborg University as Senior Advisor. Currentlyalso head of externalboard of examinators at Roskilde University (also PBL-based)

Aalborg university
Aalborg University

  • Founded 1974

  • Part of a regional development strategy

  • Engineering & Science; Humanities; Social Sciences; Medicine

  • 17.000 students, 3.500 employees

  • Problem Based Learning (PBL): problem based and project organized learning;

  • Strong linkages with wider society – in Northern Jutland and increasingly at national level (Copenhagen Campus)

O verview

  • Introduction: Roles of modernuniversities

  • Problem Based Learning (PBL) – what and why?

  • Why and how may PBL be useful as a tool for expanding innovation and development research capacity at East African Universities?

  • Concluding remarks

R oles of modern universities
Rolesof modernuniversities

  • Developexperts and managers

  • Create new knowledge

  • Collaborate with society at large:

    - disseminate

    - interact

Role 1 developing experts and managers graduates contribute to economic development
Role 1: Developingexperts and managers:Graduatescontribute to economicdevelopment

  • In general, graduatesarebetterprepared to cope with non-routinetasks.

  • Theycanabsorb and implement new ideasdevelopedoutsidetheirown organisation

  • Theycanalsodevelop new ideaswithinthe organisation.

    Thereforeimportant to educate more graduates with a focus on solving practical problems - and ensurethattheyareusede.g. in the private sector.

    Demandfor graduatesreflects rate of innovation in the economy. High rate of unemploymentamonggraduatesmayreflectweak national innovation system.

Role 2 generating new knowledge examples aau
Role 2: Generating new knowledge – examples, AAU

  • Wind energy; development of smart gridsthatusehigh proportions of renewableenergy

  • Health sector: speech recognitiontechnologies, research in cronicpain

  • Improvingconstruction and buildingmethods + development of standards

  • ”Sound development” for musicians, private sector and researchers

  • Research center on Cyber-Crime

  • Social behaviour research (e.g. howcyclistscanreducenumber of accidents by wearingcolourfulcloth!)

  • Communicationtechnologies (IT)

Role 3 collaborating with society tripple helix and beyond
Role 3: Collaborating with society – tripplehelix and beyond….

International agreements and developmentagencies

Labour market and demand for graduates

Education and training system

Financial system



Culture and norms – old and emerging

Role of universities as educational institutions
Role of universities as educational institutions

  • Teachspecifictheories and methodologies

    Way of thinking: I am a scientist – youare a student.

    2. Developyoungpeopleintellectually

    Way of thinking: I am a mentor – youarecreative and curious!

The aalborg pbl model key ingredients
The Aalborg PBL model – key ingredients

  • Themes (for a semester or a subject or both)

  • Problem (practical, theoretical, more or less complex)

  • Project (5-30 ECTS, one semester each, starting the first semester)

  • Project group (team) (1-6 students – normally (2)3 to 4 depending on semester and study programme. (The formation of groups is often a difficult process)

  • Supervisors (with different roles)

  • Courses (general and project specific)

  • Infrastructure (IT, access to literature, group rooms / meeting places, administration)

  • Collaboration with external partners

Principle of project organized problem solving
Principle of project-organized problem-solving



Group studies

Problem analysis

Problem solving

Report / documentation


Field studies


Kjærsdam & Enemark, 1994

Re active to pro active students
Re-active to Pro-active students

Student responsibilities
Student Responsibilities

  • Accept ownership in the contents, the process, and the organization of the project work.

  • Accept personal responsibility for the education.

  • Specify personal interests in relation to the project work.

  • Maintain contact with the supervisor.

  • Contribute to building social cohesion in the group.

  • Make contacts in- and outside of the university.

Supervisor responsibilities
Supervisor Responsibilities

  • Being a guide and sparring partner.

  • Inspiring control by participation.

  • Offering constructive criticism and posing relevant questions.

  • Aiding in structuring the problem setting.

  • Supervising the work process in the group.

  • Upholding formal requirements to the project work and deliverables.

  • Providing relevant material and - if need be - helping in making contacts.

Where does the problem come from
Where does the problem come from?

  • From the students (media, course curricula, projects)

    • Strengthens student’s ownership of the project

    • High degree of motivation – a driving force

  • From the potential supervisors (research interests)

    • Project catalogue

  • From ”the outside world”

    • Companies or institutions

    • Facilitated by for instance

Examples of student projects
Examples of student projects

  • Development of new IT-solution for municipality in Denmark in the field of crisis management

  • Development of a self-adjusting head rest to reduce problems of whiplash

  • Development of intelligent thermometer (Tanzania)

  • Development of technologies and organisation of future care centres for elderlypeople

Many ways of collaborating with society
Manyways of collaborating with society

Trainee internship

Why pbl what are the experienced benefits
Why PBL? What are the experienced benefits

  • Motivated students (promoting personal responsibility for learning, inviting to self reflection – learning to learn)

  • Combination of theory and practise (growing insight in methods and techniques and in their use, application in new contexts)

  • “Efficient” (less drop-outs and more students completing in time, learning is an interactive and social process)

  • High level of employability

  • (New) relevant knowledge (students, supervisors, ‘society’ (private firms and public organisations))

  • Inviting to integrative and holistic thinking

Pbl additional skills
PBL – ”additionalskills”

  • Project management (formulation, plan, control, production and evaluation of projects).

  • Methods and techniques to find and handle information and skills to analyze problems.

  • Cooperation/team work (Division of work, coordination, and joint decisions).

  • Conflict management (Working in groups requires mutual respect, understanding and acceptance of differences).

  • Writing and presentation skills

  • Cultural insights and understanding

  • Enhanced language capabilities

References and more info about pbl
References and more info about PBL

You can find more info about The Aalborg PBL model at this webpage (including downloading a pdf-brochure with selected references):

Or visit this site:

Aalborg University also hosts an UNESCO Chair in PBL. For more info, see:

Aalborg University also offers a full online master in Problem Based Learning in Engineering and Science (also relevant for other disciplines), see:

The key question
The keyquestion:

Why and howmay PBL beuseful as a toolfor expandinginnovation and development research capacity at East AfricanUniversities?

Three steps towards an answer
Three steps towards an answer….

  • Somekeychallenges for AfricanUniversities(theremaybeotherchallenges as well!)

  • The need for structural transformation in Africa…..

  • How may PBL contribute?

Some key challenges to universities in africa
Somekeychallenges to universities in Africa

  • Curricula often not responsive to real life problems

  • Approaches to teaching and learning do not necessarilyensurethat students learn to learn

  • Manygraduates find it hard to find employmentand have tootheoreticalknowledge(not allowingthem to helpsolve real life problems in communities, firms, ministries etc.)

  • Masseducationleading to poorqualityof educations, inequity in accessto qualityeducation etc.

  • Brain drain – in somecountriesbraindrain rate up to 40%; partlycaused by pooremploymentpossibilities

The wider challenge current pattern of rapid african growth not sustainable
The widerchallenge: Current Pattern of rapid African Growth not sustainable

  • Currentrecordgrowth is driven by private consumptionreflectingincomes from exports of ”hard” commodities, aid and remittances.

  • Deindustrialisation in Africa – and verylittleinvestment in manufacturing, services and agriculture

  • Growing problems with poverty and unemployment in the midst of rapid growth.

  • The share of employment in informalsector is growing not falling!

And thus africa requires structural transformation
…. and thusAfricarequiresstructural transformation

  • Necessary to upgrade the knowledge base of the commodityproducingsectors(knowledgesharing, education, localcontentpolicies?).

  • To build new services and manufacturingactivitiesaroundcommodityproducingsectors (cluster formation).

  • To find ways to transformnaturalrentsintoproductiveinvestment (financial innovation).

  • To buildcapacity of criticalimportance for manufacturing – includingengineering and design.

  • To buildagroindustrial innovation systems.

  • To engage in selective import substitution when it comes to consumptiongoods.

Responding to the challenges
Responding to the challenges?

  • Not an easytask! (given current power relations internationally, transformation pressure caused by highlevel of competitione.g. from Asia etc.)

  • Will require a combination of technicalinnovation, politicalwilland new forms of governance, includingrenewedfocus on industricalpolicies, fight againstcorruption and negotiationskills

  • It willalsorequireuniversitiesthatprepare students for an activerole in innovation and development of theirsocieties!

  • Universitiesalonecannotmake the change– interaction with national policy makers, international community and society at large is required.

How can pbl assist 2
How can PBL assist (2)?

  • PBL helpsmaking curricula focus more on real life problems and students becomebetter at generating solutions to real problems

  • Facilitatesintegrated and holisticuse of theory and academicapproaches and methods

  • Students learn to learn!

  • PBL prepares students to collaborate and manageprojects and processes - and to takeresponsibility

  • PBL prepares students to interact with wider society (communities, companies, other institutions)

How can pbl assist 1
How can PBL assist (1)?

  • Training future experts and managers in keepingfocus on problems and how to solvethesemayhelpescape the capability trap and generate more functional institutions (Matt Andrews, 2013)

  • Students trained in problem analysiswill form a better ”cadre” for identifying solutions thatwork in specificcountries and contexts (leading to more Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation cf. Matt Andrews, 2013)

  • Continuoustraining in collaboration and interaction with society at large mayhelpbroaden engagement and inter-activelearning– critical for enhanced innovation capacity.

How can pbl assist 3
How can PBL assist (3)?

  • Teachers with knowledge and focus on PBL mayfocus more on contributing to solving real problems in theirown research – and thuscontribute more to enhancedcapacity in innovation and developmentresearch

  • Future researchers (trained in PBL as part of their studies) likely to beeven more orientedtowardssolving real problems throughown research and collaboration with actorsoutside the universities

  • Wider society becomesincreasinglyaware of potential in collaborating with academic institutions – if suggested solutions to real life problems areuseful! May evenincreasedemand for graduates….

What will it take
Whatwill it take?

  • Curiousity and open approachamonguniversity professors! (seems to be growing!)

  • Politicalback-upand initial investment in developing curricula and models for interacting with society at large (a processalready in motion?)

  • Willingness in private sector to engage and give more graduates a chance during and after studies!

  • Support from international community(donors and developmentagencies)

A couple of quotes chinua achebe
A couple of quotes – ChinuaAchebe

  • ”I arguethathighereducation in Africashouldberethought and restructured to betterreflect the actuallivedexperiences of the vastmajority of Africans”

  • ”This requires, amongotherthings, that institutions of higherlearninginterrogateindigenousknowledges and practices of sustainabledevelopment and articulatethem with existingscientific and technologicalknowledges in order to generate policies and programs thatareAfrica-centered, and acceptable to the localpeoples.”

  • From ”Producingknowledge for sustainabledevelopment in Africa: Implications for highereducation”, by Andrew C. Okolie (2003)

So w hy bother about pbl
So why bother about PBL??

Tell me and I will forget

Show me and I will remember

Involve me and I will understand

Step back and I will act

(Chinese proverb)

Thanks for listening contact details mha@business aau dk

Thanks for listening! 

Four roles in facilitation and their pitfalls

How are things in the group?

Make an index to the report as soon as possible

Well, everything seem to be working fine ...

Can you please go to the blackboard and…

Four roles in facilitation – and their pitfalls

Product facilitation