The dynamics of project-based learning extension courses: the “Laboratory of Social Projects” case study

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The dynamics of project-based learning extension courses: the “Laboratory of Social Projects” case study


extension courses
project-based learning

How to Cite

Arantes do Amaral, J. A. (2017). The dynamics of project-based learning extension courses: the “Laboratory of Social Projects” case study. Journal of Problem Based Learning in Higher Education, 5(2).


In this case study we discuss the dynamics that drive a free-of-charge project-based learning extension course. We discuss the lessons learned in the course, “Laboratory of Social Projects.” The course aimed to teach project management skills to the participants. It was conducted from August to November of 2015, at Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), Osasco Campus, Brazil. The course had 72 participants (41 community members and 31 university students). The participants worked in teams of four members (on average) and developed 13 projects on behalf of eight NGOs that help people in need.

In our research, we followed a mixed methods approach, using unstructured questionnaires and project reports as sources of information. We made use of system thinking analysis to reveal the dynamics that unfolded during the course.

Our main findings are: 1) free-of-charge extension courses can be much more challenging to manage than traditional courses; the bureaucracy of getting the university’s approval and problems related to dropouts are issues to consider; 2) the workload of the professors involved can be substantially higher than the workload of similar regular courses; 3) the use of project-based learning techniques can be very effective; 4) the courses can provide a very rich experience to the participants, promoting intense knowledge-sharing among all involved.


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