CITL recognizes Liebenberg for high-impact “mini projects”


Bill Bowman

Leon Liebenberg
Leon Liebenberg
The Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning at Illinois has highlighted Teaching Associate Professor Leon Liebenberg’s recent groundbreaking instruction in several MechSE courses.

Liebenberg has strategically broken out theory-heavy courses into “mini projects” that allow students to incrementally grasp large concepts through smaller steps. These group projects develop students’ skills in teamwork, delegation, and peer-to-peer teaching along the way.

“These mini projects work like a gem, especially with online learning,” Liebenberg said.

"It takes a lot of effort to dream up the mini projects. But, the reward is to see students doing autonomous learning, doing intensive independent research, engaging with users of products or devices, empathizing with clients, and then co-designing solutions with those people."

He has implemented this teaching model in large part due to the perceived needs of the engineering industry; design-based learning draws from concepts relating to problem-based and project-based learning. The use of mini projects constitutes a mechanism that is effective in meeting both experiential and project-based learning goals.

“Mini projects provide an opportunity to develop competencies such as self-directed learning, autonomy, teamwork, creativity, exploration, inspiration, planning, and organization in a project of limited extent,” he said. “They offer an ideal mechanism for students to demonstrate their competencies, especially when merged with ePortfolios to effectively document competencies, and to enable commenting, including the use of social media. Presented in this manner, mini projects offer an opportunity to transform a traditional curriculum into one comprised of a succession of learning experiences, driven by guided self-study.”

Each of the mini projects can be independent from one another or “scaffolded” as a connected series. Lessons learned in previous mini projects can be integrated in subsequent projects. The mini projects are presented as team-based as well as individual efforts, and rely on guided self-study, making them ideal pedagogies for online teaching and learning.

Liebenberg has utilized this method in courses as diverse as Thermodynamics (ME 200), Fluid Mechanics (TAM 335), and Energy Conversion Systems (ME 400).

Get more details about Leon's mini projects and other teaching strategies on the I-STEM website.

About CITL

The Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL) is a hub of innovation and hands-on support for those who want to discuss and work with higher education trends, models, projects, and resources. CITL uses leading pedagogical approaches, research-based methodologies, innovative instructional technologies, and comprehensive assessment practices to strengthen teaching efforts and improve student learning outcomes.