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Čubela, D.; Rossner, A.; Neis, P. Problem-Based Learning and Gamification in Engineering Education. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 14 June 2024).
Čubela D, Rossner A, Neis P. Problem-Based Learning and Gamification in Engineering Education. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 14, 2024.
Čubela, Dino, Alexander Rossner, Pascal Neis. "Problem-Based Learning and Gamification in Engineering Education" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2024).
Čubela, D., Rossner, A., & Neis, P. (2023, December 15). Problem-Based Learning and Gamification in Engineering Education. In Encyclopedia.
Čubela, Dino, et al. "Problem-Based Learning and Gamification in Engineering Education." Encyclopedia. Web. 15 December, 2023.
Problem-Based Learning and Gamification in Engineering Education

This research explores the integration of problem-based learning, gamification, and data-driven approaches in engineering education. By tackling real-world issues like automated teller machine (ATM) burglaries in Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany), students gained experience in data analyses and geoinformatics technology. This approach not only motivated students but also enhanced their prospects in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, equipping them with skills necessary for their future careers. The course structure emphasized student-centered learning, with educators playing facilitative roles to provide guidance. In summary, the combination of problem-based learning, gamification, and data-driven approaches offers a promising solution to address the challenges faced by STEM education, providing an engaging and effective learning experience for students, and ultimately preparing them for the demands of the ever-evolving professional landscape.

engineering education problem-based learning gamification STEM education data-driven education

1. Introduction

Engineering education, as a part of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, plays a key role in shaping the future of our society, especially regarding the link between science and technology on one hand and sustainable economic growth on the other [1]. The emergence of new technologies and the rapidly evolving and ever-changing professional demands put the educational system under a state of continuous challenge. Thus, educational institutions must adopt effective pedagogical approaches that empower students with the skills and expertise necessary to be successful in real-world engineering challenges (e.g., in their future jobs).
In recent years, integrating data-driven approaches, gamification, and problem-based learning gained substantial attention as promising strategies to enhance engineering students’ engagement, motivation, and knowledge acquisition [2][3][4]. Gamification is defined as the application of game elements and mechanics outside their primary context [5] and has shown enormous potential in transforming traditional educational approaches. Leveraging game-design principles such as challenges, rewards, competition, and gamified learning experiences can captivate the students’ attention, motivate them, and promote active participation in the learning process [6]. The elements of feedback, progress tracking, and an ever-present sense of achievement present in gamified environments contribute towards immersive and enjoyable educational experiences [7].
Problem-based learning offers an educational framework that enables students to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world problem-solving scenarios. By offering the students the opportunity to engage themselves in authentic projects, they gain hands-on experience, develop critical thinking skills, and cultivate a deep understanding of the implications of their academic studies [8]. Furthermore, the framework encourages collaborations, promotes interdisciplinary thinking, and fosters the integration of multiple skills that are very relevant in the STEM field, including communication, teamwork, and creativity [9].
Data-driven approaches also emerged as a powerful tool in engineering education, leveraging the vast amounts of data available from various sources. This type of approach allows for personalized learning experiences, fostering individual growth and addressing the diverse needs of engineering students.

2. GeoGovernment

Developments in the digital workflows of administrative processes (eGovernment)—such as online services and portals, data integration and interoperability, open data, and transparency—are increasingly challenging and influencing administrations and administrative action. Influenced by the rapid changes in IT, national and international administrations face various challenges that, for example, arise from the open data trend, whilst it has great potential, especially in the field of open government data, for the development of public policies, democratic dialogue, entrepreneurship, etc.
However, even if numerous benefits emerge from the opening up of government data to citizens and companies (transparency, the reliability of administration, the promotion of public participation, and finally, the revitalization of the economy), we must also be aware of the major limitations arising from the usage of large open databases. Just publishing raw data does not mean that they are ready to be used—there is a skillset needed to download, clean, order, analyze, and interpret open data in the context of geo-government. Kassen [10] states that reusing and processing open data require skilled enthusiasts and tech-savvy citizens who contribute their time, knowledge, and expertise to the creation or co-creation of products and policies based on open data.
To address this, the Carl Zeiss Foundation endowed a professorship in “GeoGovernment“ at the Mainz University of Applied Sciences for five years—the first of its kind in Germany. As part of the endowed professorship, new skills and expertise are to specifically developed in the area of eGovernment, geoinformatics, and geodesy. For context, handling open source and open data to visualize information of police press releases would fall within the scope of the GeoGovernment. The professorship occupies a place in the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs in geoinformatics and surveying. These degree programs give the students the possibility of putting their study profiles together according to their wishes—either focusing on surveying or deepening their knowledge on geoinformatics. In both cases, the disciplines can be defined as science and engineering subjects and as part of STEM higher education. STEM education is essential for societal growth due to the critical role of science and technology in economic sustainability [11]. It solves complex social problems by integrating scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical knowledge. By enabling students to address real-world challenges, STEM education has the goal of preparing a scientific labor force to contribute to society [1]. The necessity to educate a workforce is extremely high, and the gap between supply and demand is growing: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10.8% growth between the years 2021 and 2031. This doubles the number of non-STEM occupations. STEM jobs also pay substantially more: with a median annual wage of USD 95,420, it is more than double the no-STEM counterpart (USD 40,120) [12].
In theoretical terms, the prospect of a comparatively high income and the near-guaranteed possibility of easily finding employment would encourage students to apply to universities that offer a STEM-related subject. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The number of students who enroll in such degree programs is steadily declining. For example, in 2021, around 307,000 students chose a STEM major as their desired topic in the first semester, which is a 6.5% drop compared to the previous year [13]. This can be explained by the demographic changes and the drop in enrollment numbers of international students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These negative demographic trends are only projected to end when the 2011 cohort enrolls in universities, so the problem is not a short-term one [13]. The student retention rates do not look promising either. The majority of students who enroll in STEM-related majors do not graduate with a STEM degree [14]. In Germany, about 49% of students who start a degree in the field either drop out or change to another subject [13]. In a three-year study based in seven different universities in the United States, Seymour et al. [15] reported that about 40% of those who enroll in engineering degrees change to non-science or non-technical majors, 50% drop out of physical and biological sciences, and 60% drop out of mathematics programs.
A big factor contributing to low retention rates in STEM is poor teaching—Seymour et al. [15] argue that it is the third highest reason for leaving science. More than 90% of students who leave STEM-related studies are concerned about the quality of teaching, especially the lack of interaction, preparation, and organization. Overall, they are criticizing a lack of encouragement of discussions and the sense of discovering things together [15]. Watkins et al. [16] propose that offering students the opportunities to actively think, respond, and interact in classrooms may have an impact on the students’ decisions regarding whether they should stay in STEM disciplines or not. In addition, Daempfle [17] provided evidence that teacher interaction and interactive teaching in the classroom have an effect on retention, although the extent of the effect varies in relation to gender and student background.

3. Gamification in Engineering Education

Gamification, in a broader sense than just education, is most commonly defined as the application of game design elements and game principles in non-game contexts [5]. Such elements include, for example, earning points, overcoming a challenge or receiving prizes for completing tasks, following a narrative, having player control, receiving immediate feedback on certain actions, having the opportunity for collaborative problem-solving, etc. [18]. In an educational environment, it allows the educator to challenge students in a fun and engaging way by creating real-life scenarios that can ultimately help students in their future professional lives by building critical thinking and social skills as well as professional expertise [19][20]. Combining education and gaming elements can motivate students to engage more actively in their learning, and give teachers better tools to guide and reward students [21].
STEM education, as described, is pretty demanding on students, but it has a huge beneficial effect: it offers students a familiar, playful environment in which they can thrive. Playing games and therefore using game elements and game mechanics is a “language” that students can speak, it is inherent to them, and it is used as a mechanism to develop their autonomy, competence, and relatedness [18]. Additionally, the JIM-Studie 2022 [22] shows that 94% of 12–19-year-olds play videogames: 76% play daily or several times a week, 10% once per week or every 14 days, 8% once a month or less often, and 6% never. Subsequently, it is a logical conclusion to provide students with a familiar environment that they have grown up in and most of them still engage in on a daily basis when they need to learn complex theoretical concepts and their practical implications.
From the standpoint of effectiveness, gamification strategies are highly relevant and effective [19]. Empirical evidence suggests that gamification not only motivates students to conceive the information that the educator conveys theoretically, but also helps them to understand how to manipulate and leverage the acquired information in a real-life, practical manner [19][23].

4. Problem-Based Learning

To move forward, we need to differentiate between problem-based and project-based learning. Project-based learning is a systemic teaching method and overall approach to the design of learning environments that emphasizes learning through projects [24]. In this method, students look at real-life problems in their natural setting from an interdisciplinary standpoint and develop products in the classroom as solutions to these problems [25]. Students gain a more in-depth comprehension when they can build their understanding by working with and using ideas [26]. Moving the focus from a passive intake of information (i.e., frontal teaching) towards a more engaging, real-life explorational skill development helps the student by already contextualizing theoretical concepts in a professional environment.
Problem-based learning, on the other hand, is a teaching strategy where the teaching approach is changed in favor of the student by setting the focus on the development of problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Tan [27] defines it as a “progressive active learning and learner-centered approach where unstructured problems are used as the starting point and anchor for the learning process”.
While similar, these are two different approaches—problem-based learning is driven by the problem and focuses on research and inquiry, while project-based learning is driven by the product and the process of production. Noordin [28] assert that PBL is a subset of project-based learning and as such, implementing project-based learning also implements PBL. A further distinction is made in their article (see Table 9, Page 3).
Learning environments that are project-based show some common features [26][29]:
They start with a driving question. These are ill-structured problems that are presented as unresolved so that the students can generate a plethora of causes, but also a plethora of solutions for those problems [30][31].
Students explore the question by participating in situated inquiry—processes of problem-solving that are similar or identical to those of experts in the discipline. Authenticity is the key factor when selecting a problem. Authenticity is embodied by the alignment to the professional or real-world practice [30][31].
Students, teachers, and community members engage in collaborative activities to find solutions to the question—similar to team activities in a professional environment. The problems are generally cross-disciplinary, and students need to investigate multiple subjects to be able to come up with workable solutions [30][32]. The educator acts as a facilitator or tutor in the learning process and initially prompts students with meta-cognitive questions, then gradually decreases this guidance [30][31].
While engaging in the inquiry process, students are equipped with technologies to help them participate in activities that are normally beyond their ability.
Students create a set of tangible products as answers to the driving questions. These are shared artifacts, publicly accessible external representations of the class’s learning.
While problem-based learning is not the only method of approaching ill-structured and complex problems while teaching, there is empirical evidence that it is more effective in comparison to conventional classroom teaching when it comes to long-term retention, skill development, and the satisfaction of students and teachers [33]. Galand et al. [34] showed that, when applied to an engineering curriculum, students who enrolled in a program with a PBL curriculum outperformed those from the conventional one, especially in the application of knowledge.


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