The difficulty that secondary education students have with Mathematics and other Science topics is a widespread problem in Europe as stated by several international comparative studies like PISA or TIMMS. This prevents these students to follow a technical academic path like Engineering. This is not due to lesser skills of these youngsters but mostly due to wrong teaching strategies. We cannot forget that this generation is the "net-generation" or "digital natives": they quickly absorb information in shorter chunks, they expect instant responses and feedback and they want to be active in their learning.
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a learner-centered educational pedagogy in which students develop their ability to go through a problem solving process, usually based on real-life situations. Engineering is one of the areas where PBL is a valid learning alternative and reportedly the benefits for engineering students are considerable improvements in critical, lateral and creative thinking, problem solving skills, group collaboration and communication skills. In a convergent path, games and simulations can be instantiated for learning as they involve mental and physical stimulation and develop practical skills – they force the player to decide, to choose, to define priorities, to solve problems, etc.
The main objective of the eCITY project is to design, develop and validate a pedagogical methodology, supported by an online, collaborative, city-development simulation engine (Simcity like) that stimulates the integration and continuous exploitation of Problem Based Learning in engineering schools but, at the same time, fostering the interest in Engineering in secondary school students.
ECity’s PBL VLE is expected to be a general and stimulating context especially due to the nature and complexity of the range of problems that will be available in the virtual city. The platform will also promote a sense of belonging to a community, peer support and an additional rewarding system that includes reputation points for problem solving allowing the establishment of rankings (promoting an healthy competition); the “immortality” of the learner’s work – his/her contribution stays registered and can be accessed by all the users from the game beginnings, stimulating once more the recognition motivation mechanism.
Also important is the fact that the platform will be integrated in a clear pedagogical methodology, PBL-oriented, to ensure that the upmost relevance is given to the learning process, not the technology. Problems or challenges can be fed into the platform as homework, teamwork, curricular activities, extra-curricular competitions, big or small projects, etc. PBL can be incorporated within existing structures with little disruption as it can be implemented in a variety of forms. Therefore it is not necessary to change the curricular organization as problems can be formatted to different time and work schemes.