An LSC Guide Essay: Georgia Institute of Technology

Problem-driven learning spaces at the U.A. Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Building

The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering was founded in 1997 as a joint department between the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech and the School of Medicine at Emory University. Two years later, the young department, with no students, a handful of faculty members and no building, applied for and were successful in winning a Leadership-Development grant from the Whitaker Foundation. Two forms of visionary leadership were required to receive these substantial grants — leadership in the field of biomedical engineering and leadership in educational innovation.  
The Coulter department, in collaboration with cognitive and learning scientists on campus, proposed developing undergraduate and graduate programs that embraced a problem-based learning (PBL) approach to education. Borrowed from medical education, PBL was designed to be an apprenticeship model of learning in which small groups worked closely with an expert facilitator in solving real-world, complex problems. This approach is well suited to the cognitive and learning challenges associated with the field of biomedical engineering.