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Problem-Based Learning

  1. Mar 27, 2008 #1
    For my curiousity and perhaps to start a discussion in this forum,

    (1) Has anyone used Problem-Based Learning to teach science subjects?

    (2) Has anyone experienced Problem-Based Learning in a science subjects?

    (3) Any thoughts on PBL?

    this would be a good intro to PBL:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem-based_learning
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2008 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    We exclusively use problem-based learning here in the Dpeartment of Physiology and Biophysics, so I've taught material (in some cases, the same material) both in a lecture-based and dialectic-based format.

    PBL can work extremely well under the following assumptions:
    1) The class size is small: between 8 and 12 students.
    2) Students have read the material and come to class able to discuss.
    3) The 'facilitator' does not lecture.

    PBL will not work for presenting certain materials: standard derivations of well-known results, for example. PBL also requires a lot more work on the part of the faiclitator prior to the classes.

    When PBL works, it's amazing.
     
  4. Mar 27, 2008 #3
    So the resource material is assigned beforehand ? Are they constrained to that resource material?

    How old are the students?

    I'm joining a department where PBL is used exclusively, hence this post.
     
  5. Mar 28, 2008 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    I can't speak for other departments- here, resource material is assigned beforehand and class discussion is not limited to the resource material.

    This is grad school, if that matters.
     
  6. Mar 28, 2008 #5
    I see, thank you, that's really interesting. I'm with an institution that uses PBL with students just out of junior high school (to use the american description).

    I've kinda had enough with the lecture-tutorial method. I've given really simple problems during tutorials after a very good lecture by the prof, and yet I have students staring blankly at the paper, or struggling with concepts that we take for granted that they should already have.

    It made me question whether the problem lies with the system, instead of the students.
     
  7. Mar 28, 2008 #6
    I have absolutely hated every PBL-style course I've had. I'd much rather sit and listen to a lecture than work through some mickey-mouse worksheet with whatever idiot you get stuck sitting next to.
     
  8. Mar 28, 2008 #7
    Your students will never have as good a grasp of the underlying ideas if you go exclusively with PBL. The best experiences that I have had were of lectures that were organized and kept track of the overarching ideas. Examples were always nice as supplements, but I have personally disliked every single class that used PBL more than absolutely necessary.
     
  9. Mar 28, 2008 #8
    hmm, do you say this based on your experiences?
     
  10. Mar 28, 2008 #9
    My experience as a student. Once I really understand an idea, I have no need for a variety of examples. The only reason that such need arises is if the lecturer has failed to clearly deliver the concepts. So instead of going with PBL (which can only develop students with great technical skills who will forget what they learned a year later because all they have grasped were techniques), I would strongly suggest developing a curriculum proceeding from the general ideas down to the applications, and let the students work out examples in their own time.
     
  11. Mar 31, 2008 #10

    Andy Resnick

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    I wonder if we are all talking about different types of "PBL".

    For my classes, students spend the majority of 'learning time' outside of the class- classroom time is spent on the few topics the students are having trouble with. We don't spend time on worksheets in class.

    Class time is a lot like a journal club meeting (if anyone here has done that). My tests are completely open-note, open-book, open anything: they are take-home, and I tell the students they may collaborate, talk to anyone they want (including professors and students who have already taken the class), whatever.

    Handsomecat, can you give any details on the class you are designing (topics, class size, etc.)?
     
  12. Mar 31, 2008 #11
    yes, I certainly could give more details. That will have to wait a week or two, as essentially I will be one of the junior staff that's just facilitating the sessions. I'm still discovering and learning the system :)

    What I can say now is that the institution is tertiary-level but for students aged 17 and above. Class size is a maximum of 25.
     
  13. Mar 31, 2008 #12

    Moonbear

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    What you're describing is NOT PBL.

    We use PBL for some of our medical courses. It's very effective to supplement their education. In our case, we give them the cases they'll discuss when they come into the class on any given day, they work through it together and figure out as much as they can, and set up their own learning issues to research as their "homework" for the next week, when they get the next part of the case. Each case lasts 3 weeks. During the class on the last day of each case, they develop a concept map relating all the things they've learned over the course of that particular case...this helps them identify gaps in knowledge, and show them just how much they have learned, and makes all the connections between concepts that may not have initially been learned in a structured order.

    As Andy points out, the biggest downfall (and when students dislike PBL) is when the facilitator switches into lecture mode instead of just keeping everyone on task (my most common intervention as a facilitator is when they're all staring at each other unsure of the answer to a question someone posed, and I suggest it might make a good learning issue).

    The stuff my students learn in PBL is likely to stick with them better than passive learning in a lecture.

    It's certainly not about doing worksheets together in pairs, it's about having group discussions to learn as a team while discussing a relatively complex problem you wouldn't do individually. This worksheet discussion sounds more like the small groups we do that go over homework problems...we're actually planning on dropping that part of the curriculum because students don't seem to get much out of it, and we don't have enough faculty to put the time into it.

    And, of course because I teach med students, this course also is teaching them to work in teams, which they will need to do in clinics as well.

    Our groups are about 8 students in size. When they start getting much larger, they lose some effectiveness due to not everyone getting a chance to really participate, and when they get smaller, there aren't enough people to contribute to discussion to keep things moving along.

    I recommend anyone wanting to set up a PBL based course visit a place where it is already being used and observe a good facilitator and group to see how to do it and how to train your faculty to run your course. Our course coordinator did that and attended some workshops specifically on conducting PBL, and then does a staged PBL session with experienced facilitators playing the role of students to train newcomers. The quality of the facilitator can really make or break the effectiveness of the class.
     
  14. Mar 31, 2008 #13

    Moonbear

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    I've actually found that it works best when I put very little advanced effort into it, which makes it very easy to teach. I just skim the case over about an hour before going to the class to make sure I know where it is going so I can intervene if students get too far off onto a tangent, but the less I prepare, the more work the students have to do for themselves.

    Oh, I just thought of one other thing. I let the students look up some stuff during the session (we have internet access in the classrooms), but my rule is that during discussion, laptops are closed, and if they need to look up something, only ONE is opened that they share. This ensures they are all talking to each other and not hiding behind computer screens, but still have access to the internet to look up sources (if it's a lengthy question, it becomes a learning issue, but if it's a short question, like looking up the definition of a term that's preventing them from getting further into the depth of the discussion, then I allow that).

    Mostly, I just set my B.S. filter to pick up when they're guessing at answers without indicating to the group it's a guess, and make them double check those answers, but I never give the answer to them...so I don't even need to know what the answer is myself. :biggrin:
     
  15. Apr 1, 2008 #14

    Andy Resnick

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    Moonbear,

    I like the idea of having students turn off the computers during class- I think I'll start doing that.

    As far as preparation, I admit I merely skim the material prior to class as well. The amount of time I put into organizing the 6 classes into a coherent whole- selecting the reading material, preparing the class notes (distributed prior to class), etc. is slightly more than I do for lectures.

    For the med students- things are a little different. In the PhD program, it's based on semester courses, with homework and tests- just like any other undergrad class, other than the teaching style. In the MD program, the curriculum is totally bizarre (from my perspective). It's based on 10 week "blocks", each block contains large, medium, and small groups. There is a 'block leader' that coordinates *all* the activities for the block, and there are medium group leaders and small group facilitators. The powers that be request that small-group facilitators are non-experts (something I disagree with, but whatever). That means that the block leader not only has to come up with the material for the students, lead 1 or 2 2-hour lectures where the material is introduced, but also has to come up with the "teacher notes" for all the facilitators, and the good leaders also schedule a prep session for the faciliators to go through the small group PBL session to calm the facilitators down and get them prepped for the small group.

    And then the administration wonders why they can't get enough block leaders.....
     
  16. Apr 1, 2008 #15

    Moonbear

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    Yeah, since the PBL I do is all for med student courses, the course coordinator gets stuck with that burden, not the faculty facilitating the groups.

    This seems to be the common theme in med schools...took me the last 3 years to grasp what was going on too...I think I finally figured out their curriculum, and now they're planning to change it! :rolleyes: Plus, there seems to never be a fixed schedule. The students just know they're there from morning 'til evening every day, but it seems as we try to integrate some clinical experiences into their first two years, the schedule gets more and more disrupted by the clinical faculty who like to change things on a whim and then expect the basic sciences faculty to adjust our schedules to fit with that. The students don't like that very much either...they'd prefer to have a weekly routine, and it disrupts them as much as us to have the clinical faculty suddenly decide instead of a Friday meeting, they should have a Wed meeting.

    We have a good "bank" of cases for PBL, so it's not too much of a burden anymore. The facilitator notes are already prepared in the "tutor copy" of each case when the case, and updated based on our reviews each year (both the students and faculty give a review of each case to the course coordinator; sometimes it's catching errors or outdated treatments...oops, the one the case is talking about is now banned in the US...and sometimes it's more substantial comments about insufficient information, too much information, bad timing relative to their other courses, etc). All of the faculty contribute to developing cases over time (though a few took on much more of that burden to get the course started). Right now, I'm starting to develop a case, but since there are plenty of others, there's no rush and it doesn't have to interfere with other things I need to get done...it's more like a hobby to work on it than actual work.

    None of us is an expert in all these topics...though I have fun learning along with the students...how important that is depends on how heavily dependent the curriculum is on PBL. In our case, PBL supplements traditional lecture and lab based coursework just to start introducing the students to clinical thinking while we still have them in the firm grasp of the basic science faculty to emphasize the importance of the basic sciences in medical practice.

    Other places heavily rely on PBL for much or all of their curriculum, and then I think it becomes more important to have more expertise among the facilitators since they aren't going to have another place for feedback on whether they're getting it right or wrong before the Shelf exams. Though, my impression is that having a curriculum heavily based in PBL is a good way to waste faculty resources...the students still seek out the faculty, but instead of giving a single lecture on a topic, you have groups of students trickling into your office all week long and you have to repeat the "lecture" 10 times.

    I don't use PBL format for graduate student teaching, though I guess I borrow *some* aspects of it. I do like the journal club format of teaching for them, but it's more that either I or a pre-assigned student presents an overview of the paper(s) in a lecture-ish format, and then it opens for round-table discussion. For me, that does take more preparation time (some faculty put no effort into it and just grab whatever journal articles they just happen to be reading when they need to send out the reading list to the students I think). I like to have at least 3 papers on a topic for a class that are in some way cohesive yet highlight different approaches, be it different models or opposing hypotheses on a controversial subject, or something cutting edge and something more classical, and of course I make sure I dig into all the "back story" that goes with each...the students should be doing so too, but if they don't I want to make sure I have done so to point out what they missed by not checking references or learning the full story the paper is based upon. Sometimes, simply finding 3 current papers on a topic that are of sufficient quality to teach from can be the biggest part of the challenge (though I'll throw in a bad/flawed one from time to time just to get the students to realize they need to read critically).

    Oh, and when you wonder where the dept chairs come up with odd ideas, look no further than the chairs meetings they attend in those nice tropical locations mid-winter. They all compare notes then and need to "keep up with the Jones'" so to speak. I think the deans do the same thing, but at their meetings, they compare numbers of training grants and new buildings going up as measures of success.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2008
  17. Apr 2, 2008 #16
    well, looks like you guys have PBL with more mature students. At where I work, its all kids, from 17- year olds.

    You can also probably see that on a large scale, it is very labour-intensive. There are almost 200 classes each week to handle, and the problem briefings have to be spread over two separate sessions.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2008
  18. Apr 2, 2008 #17

    Moonbear

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    I started a thread that didn't get any response yet on team-based learning. It's meant for larger groups, and might work better with younger students (I think it's more structured). I don't know if the thread is still on the first page here. Anyway, I had a link in there to some information on it. I'm trying to learn more about it too for situations where there aren't enough facilitators to break down into small groups or PBL sessions, but where inspiration of more active rather than passive learning is needed beyond what I can do by simple Q&A in lectures. This might suit your situation better than PBL too.
     
  19. Jul 26, 2008 #18
    Yes. I'm just one of the many many facilitators in the department. The staff take turns to design the problems.

    Topics: general science . The kind that Junior High school students would have encountered. physics, chemistry, biology.

    Time frame for each problem: one day.

    Class Size: 15 to 20.

    Team Size: 3 - 5.

    Problem: presented as a scenario, issues to address are provided clearly.

    Resources provided: a worksheet, internet access (mostly used), library (rarely used!),
     
  20. Jul 26, 2008 #19

    symbolipoint

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    handsomecat, I once developed and scrounged for Introductory Algebra ideas for group & pair exercise problems for linear equations. Internet would not be needed - just pencils, straight edge or rulers, graph paper, and maybe a calculator. Each group would be given a brief , exact description on paper and would then do some activity, either to make a graph and determine some values, or use a graph to give conclusionary information. I never actually had enough opportunity to try the ideas in practice, but maybe others would.
     
  21. Oct 15, 2008 #20

    vanesch

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    I have a question concerning what you guys consider PBL. As far as I understand, genuine PBL is based upon the axiom that by solving, or struggling to solve, problems you didn't get the tools for, you'll invent them yourself, and you will integrate them much better than if someone explained the concepts to you. This is like confronting, say, students who only have algebra knowledge, and never had any calculus, with a problem where you need to calculate a derivative or an integral or something, and then let them struggle until they find a way out (and re-invent, or document themselves, or whatever) calculus. So they should then surf on the web, visit the library, do whatever is needed to solve their problem, and at the end of the day, they've learned some calculus.
    Is that what is PBL for you ?
     
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