PBL with Multiple Problems

I find myself in a discipline in which there are a plethora of real world examples. Environmental engineers are involved on some level with almost every human interaction with the environment. In this way I think we are very lucky when it comes to available problems. It’s not always great for the environment, because we are usually an integral part of cleaning up a mess (pollution) that someone or something has made.

Because we have this advantage, I am wondering about the practicality of using multiple projects and multiple groups to address a single topic. Is it still problem based if we let the students seek out the problems themselves? Or is it necessary to search out several examples at once, create a thoughtful step by step assignment for each project, and move forward from there. I guess what I am really getting it is: Is it possible to build a PBL assignment that is sufficiently structured, without focusing on a particular scenario? In my mind, this would give the students more agency to seek out and work on a project which has truly captured their interests. However, I struggle with coming up with a way to structure such an assignment. I will outline a potential framework below:

Each group will:

1. Identify and describe a pollution event. Include information about the substance that was released and any available fate and transport information.

2. Identify stakeholders in the event. This would include anyone who was responsible for the event and anyone who was impacted by the event. Describe each stakeholder’s role in the incident. Include information about when stakeholders were notified and if notification was sufficient.

3. Identify clean up solutions and the roles that each stakeholder should play in the clean-up. Refer to relevant federal and state regulation where appropriate.

4. Were there preventative actions that could/should have been taken by any of the stakeholders?

Is this adequate for a PBL assignment, or is more definition needed?

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