Successful engineers possess at least two qualities. They are able to solve complex engineering problems, and they know how to work in a team. These requirements stimulated the introduction of project-based collaborative learning in engineering curricula. The acquisition of both cognitive and social skills in project-based collaborative learning seems to be a function of (a) the interplay between cognitive processes of individual students; (b) social interaction processes between students working on a project; and (c) socio-emotional processes within this group. In this study, more than one thousand students participated in a series of three project-based collaborative learning groups made up of six to eight students. Each project lasted ten weeks and was part of the course ‘Problem Solving and Engineering Design’ at the Engineering Faculty of the K. U. Leuven. Once a project was finished, all teams were reorganized, i.e. new teams were formed at the start of a new project.
At the end of each project, students individually filled in three questionnaires intended to measure his/her perceived success in having acquired the learning goals which consisted of (a) solving complex engineering problems; (b) the subject’s perceived success in having acquired social skills; and (c) his/her valuation of the intra-group socio-emotional quality (SEQ) of his/her team. It was hypothesized and observed that the SEQ of a team (c) is a function of the team members’ perceived success in solving engineering problems (a) and their perceived success in acquiring social skills (b).
Assuming a transfer of both cognitive and social skills over subsequent projects, it was hypothesized that the SEQ of project groups will also improve from the first, to the second and third projects. However, the SEQ of the project teams neither improved across the three projects nor was there any relationship between the SEQ of teams one subsequently belongs to.