Research projects

Using community-based research projects to motivate learning among engineering students

Many students quickly became bored and risked disengaging when learning at their computers during the pandemic. We decided to use research-based learning, linking classroom teaching with research methodologies, to enable students to develop new analytical skills and abilities. In research-based learning, students are tasked with collecting practical information that links research to the content of their study program, making them active participants in the construction of the research project.

At the Faculty of Engineering, University of Siam, we engaged students in a research project to create a community-run mechanism to develop and stimulate cultural capital in the Phasi Charoen district of Bangkok. As part of this project, students developed a system to automate garbage and waste collection using Internet of Things (IoT) technology. When the waste disposal units were full, the built-in technology sent an alert via Line – a popular messaging app similar to WhatsApp – to key members of the community.

The starting point was to engage with people in the community and learn from them what key issues needed to be addressed to improve the cultural capital of the region. The students then used creative problem solving to develop a system that would have a tangible positive impact.

There was a noticeable improvement in motivation and a reduction in stress among the students once they started working in the community setting, where they were able to meet and engage with the local population, rather than being tied down. on a computer screen or tablet all day.

The benefits of inquiry-based learning:

Research-based learning enables students to test and apply their knowledge in real-world contexts

For example, environmental civil engineering students applied the planning principles they learned in class when they surveyed community areas. Supporting theory with this hands-on experience enhanced students’ online learning in the classroom, with more active questions and discussions about their experiences there and brainstorming for solutions to community issues.

Research projects encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, with students bringing their specific skills from different specialties

Such projects support an interdisciplinary approach, allowing students to share their own specific expertise and skills while working and learning from others in many disciplines in order to move projects forward. For example, computer engineering students set up a software program to control a hardware system. Mechanical engineering students installed a mechanism to automate a trash can. Electrical engineering students designed a solar power system for these devices, and environmental civil engineering students planned and inspected community areas.

Students have a greater sense of ownership of their work and feel responsible to the community for making projects successful

We held regular meetings with members of the community and the students were encouraged to listen and learn and also to share insights from their studies and individual lived experiences. This improving students’ ability to adapt their learning style to different environments. In addition to online learning in the classroom, community-based research projects can help develop students’ social skills – such as effective communication, conflict resolution, active listening, empathy, and relationship management. – and respect can also be encouraged.

Helpful Techniques for Motivating Students with Research-Based Learning

Cooperation of all partners

Design and guide the project so that all participants – students and members of the local community – learn and plan together. It makes everyone involved accountable to each other. We did this through regular face-to-face meetings and collaborative planning. Everyone should work as a team in which all voices are heard and valued.

Delegate responsibility

Students should be supported and empowered to take responsibility for their tasks within their project team to the best of their ability. Their lecturers should be readily available to help when students need additional advice or have questions. Students should also be encouraged to take responsibility for helping each other to complete projects. Encourage a culture of peer support and openness.

Celebrate success together

After the successful completion of the project, which implemented an effective solution to the community’s waste problem, the students celebrated with the local people they had worked with. This helped to strengthen the bonds between the university and the community, supporting the continuation of the project which could see waste technology spread further and the development of other initiatives to stimulate cultural capital.

This community-based project has proven to be a very effective way to encourage more creative and engaging forms of learning among students at a time when generic online learning was predominant. It boosted their inspiration and motivation to study.

By presenting students with real-world problems, you can activate their knowledge in new ways, supporting their intellectual development and understanding of complex issues that extend far beyond their immediate disciplines.

Trithos Kamsuwan is Associate Dean at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Siam.