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Problem-Based Learning in Advanced Photonics Manufacturing

What is Photonics?

Photonics is the technology of generating, transporting and using light energy. Photonics is an enabling technology for applications in sensing, telecommunications, medical diagnosis and therapeutics, transportation, manufacturing, imaging and defense.

What is Problem-Based Learning?

Problem-Based Learning is a learner-centered instructional method in which students learn by actively and collaboratively solving authentic real-world problems. Students learn the process of structured problem solving while they learn course content by engaging in a systematic and recursive process. 

About Us

The PBL Projects team has been working together since 1995 to improve STEM education, principally in optics and photonics. Our previous ATE awarded projects to the New England Board of Higher Education include:

  • Fiber Optic Technology Education Project (1995-1998)  - Teacher professional development and lab improvement in fiber optic technology
  • PHOTON (2000-2003) - Curriculum and laboratory improvement including lab kit, instructional modules and lab videos,  formation of regional alliances of schools and industry, professional development in optics/photonics
  • PHOTON2 (2003-2006) - Expanded PHOTON across the U.S. though an online hands-on course in optics/photonics, developed Optics Exploration videos and 15 chapter textbook from PHOTON modules - LIGHT-Introduction to Optics and Photonics
  • PHOTON PBL (2006-2009) - Developed the PBL Challenge model in cooperation with industry, professional development for teachers, developed and field tested 8 Challenges (case studies) and conducted research on their efficacy in photonics education
  • STEM PBL for Sustainable Technology (2009-2012) - Expanded PBL model across U.S. through online professional development course, developed and field tested 6 Challenges.
  • PBL in Advanced Manufacturing (2012-2015) - Professional development in PBL implementation, developed and field tested 6 Challenges, created "how to" guide for making Challenges based on course needs.

For details on all of our ATE projects visit our web site

This three-year curriculum and faculty professional development project will increase the STEM pipeline of high school and community college students prepared and motivated to pursue careers in photonics technology through the use of problem-based learning (PBL) focused on advanced photonics manufacturing. The project will improve photonics technician education in the Northeast by developing a comprehensive series of interdisciplinary multimedia PBL instructional modules, or “Challenges,” focused on real-world issues in advanced photonics manufacturing faced by industry. 

Working in partnership with advanced photonics manufacturing industry partners across New England and New York, the APM-PBL project will build upon the successful NSF-ATE PHOTON PBL, STEM PBL and AM-PBL projects of the New England Board of Higher Education projects to: (1) Create 8 new multimedia PBL Challenges focused on real-world problems in advanced photonics manufacturing; (2) provide professional development for high school, community and four-year college STEM educators across the Northeast in advanced photonics manufacturing applications, PBL pedagogy and classroom implementation strategies; (3) develop a comprehensive recruitment strategy for increasing the pipeline of high school and community college students motivated and prepared to pursue career pathways in advanced photonics manufacturing, and (4) conduct scholarly research on the efficacy of PBL with regard to improving advanced photonics manufacturing education in the Northeast. 

PBL in APM is a project of Springfield Technical Community College along with partner New England Board of Higher Education.


The APM-PBL project is seeking high school and 2- and 4-year college instructors to take field test the new Challenges, beginning with a workshop in Summer, 2020.

As a result of taking part in the APM-PBL project, participating secondary and postsecondary educators will:

  • Learn how the web-based Advanced Manufacturing PBL Challenges can be used in the classroom.
  • Learn student assessment strategies for PBL.
  • Learn to design your own PBL Challenges.
  • Gain access to the PBL curriculum materials developed by the four PBL Projects.
  • Receive stipends for field-testing Advanced Manufacturing Challenges
  • Become part of a nationwide network of PBL educators dedicated to sharing knowledge with fellow project participants.

Contact us at to learn more.