Project-based learning is an important component of college life today. Make it work to your advantage.

Project-based learning (PBL) is considered an alternative to the teacher led classroom model. In fact, this will integrate theory and practice. The benefits are plenty including improved writing skill, understanding concepts, people and processes in an organisation. Major dividends include learning about people, organisational idiosyncrasies and skills to handle them when employed.

The core idea of PBL is that real-world problems capture students’ interest and provoke serious thinking, as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context.

This is a good idea in principle. However, what happens in reality is different. Let me describe two incidents.

The first was when I encountered five engineering students who were at a ‘Xerox’ shop to buy projects reports from the manager of that shop! The shop sells projects from a catalogue consisting of colleges with project titles. A little bit of correction here and there and bingo a report was in the hand!

The second: two years back I was approached by an unsuccessful real estate owner who wanted to set up a business selling projects to students, as he saw money in that! Neither was he educated to understand engineering projects nor did he have practical experience in this field. This trend undermines the basic purpose of project-based learning.

Are we casual?

We do help students by offering projects and do refer them to organisations. But many times the faculty don’t help the students in engaging with the project. The need for an interface between colleges and the industry is neglected as the students are left to fend for themselves. Some faculty justify this by saying that this approach will help students explore on their own. This position does not appeal to me, as the faculty’s further actions negate the seriousness of this statement.

Project learning is very important. It is the only “experience” that the student brings in when he or she goes for a job interview. It must not be neglected.

A mechanical engineering student wanted to do his project in an automobile company. In the pre-project interview the company asked these questions — why do you want to do your project in the automobile industry and why choose our company? As he could not provide a satisfactory answer, they rejected him saying that he had not done proper ground work and does not seem serious enough.

In another instance, a student of human resource management was send to a pharmaceutical company. She had studied the company and suggested some topics she was interested in. The interviewers were impressed with the ground work she had done and asked her to form a questionnaire.

She prepared the questionnaire on her own, had it vetted by others and presented it to the HR team. In her presentation, she made a statement on what she had learned during this process. This attitude was welcomed, and, at the end of the project, she was offered a job in the company.

Hints for the student

Plan: Now, knowing the importance of the PBL involve your guide in choosing the topic and its relevance to your career. Based on the topic choose the industry / organisation which offers a professional ambience for your project. Many organisations do not have time and space for this but accommodate students for reasons best known to them. Your ground work on the company and project work will surely pay off.

Learn: The sole purpose of PBL is to “learn.” Hence, maintain a learning diary and record your learning in terms of knowledge, skill and attitude. This will help you shape up for a job. Presentation: Report preparation in an approved format is essential. This experience will help you in future when you are employed, in preparing a project report. Let your report be authentic and reliable as this will be an important document for your interview. If you are thorough and original in answering project-related questions your chances are much brighter in getting a job.

For the faculty

Placements are a priority in colleges, and engaging your students in projects enhances their prospects. Arts and science departments have to redefine their project guidance system and educate the students in real time projects.

It is imperative for you to liaise with organisations where your students are doing projects. You will get firsthand feedback on your students for monitoring their projects. This step will build a rapport with industries, and in one stroke you can bring in seriousness and sincerity among students.

Evaluate the projects in terms of title quality, operational relevance, students’ learning and industry orientation. Colleges should aim to do projects with the government and with industries, where there is an abundant need.

The writer is a director and senior consultant with Bodhi.