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Problem based learning: transitioning to an online / hybrid learning environment

A few weeks ago I attended a short presentation by Prof. Meena Iyer from Missouri University. Prof. Iyer spoke about how she moved her PBL module from using a traditional, mainly face-to-face approach, to an online / hybrid approach. Here are my notes.

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“All life is problem solving” – Karl Popper

How do we get students to think like professionals in the field?
How do we foster group interaction in online spaces?
How do I assess learning in online spaces?

PBL addresses the content issue, as well as enhancing critical thinking through the collaborative solving of authentic, real-world problems

Mismatch:

  • PBL → solving problems is the tool, learning is the goal
  • Traditional → content is the tool, problem solving is the goal

PBL is all unstructured (but it can be scaffolded), and there’s not necessarily a right/wrong answer

Six steps to problem solving (IDEALS):

  • Identify the problem (What is the real question we are facing?)
  • Define the context (What are the facts that frame this problem?)
  • Enumerate the choices (What are the plausible actions?)
  • Analyse the options (What is the best course of action?)
  • List reasons explicitly (why is this the best course of action?)
  • Self-correct (What did we miss?)

The problem should be authentic and appealing (a mystery to solve)
Clearly outline expectations for each step of the process

Why move from face-to-face to online?

  • In F2F, you can only move forward at the speed of the slowest learner
  • Significant time requirements for F2F
  • Identify…can be anonymous online → fewer preconceived biases among students

Challenges:

  • How do you transition F2F to online
  • What tools are appropriate / feasible / viable / affordable?
  • How do you do collaborative work when everyone is online at different times?

Format:

  • Cases are presented in multiple formats / media
  • Introductory week to familiarise students with online environment. In addition to learning the content and critical thinking, students also have to learn about PBL
  • Scenarios are released in 2 stages over a 2 week period
  • Scenarios are accompanied by a set of probing questions to stimulate discussion
  • Teacher provides support during the discussions
  • Students must also design their own case
  • Assessment is based on content and depth
  • Wiki used for question / answer. Each student must answer each of the questions, each answer must be different i.e. must add to what has already been added (this means that the question can’t just be a knowledge question)
  • Discussion boards are used for students to dissect the cases (All and Group)
  • Each group assesses their own knowledge base, and define what the gaps are, and therefore what they need to find out (who provides the links to the resources, or can students use any resources?)
  • At least 3 posts per student, including: Summarise and question one citation; Answer another students’ question; Follow up any discussion on their own posts
  • Reading assignment: written, critial appraisal of a published article relevant to the case study. This summary must be posted online.

Important for students to learn how to share information in supportive environments

Assessment:

  • What parts of the process need to be assessed?
  • What parts can be graded as a group?
  • What needs to be submitted for individual assessment?
  • What are the time constraints for the grading?
  • How do you balance grading workload with the need to externally motivate student performance?
  • There is also a syllabus quiz to ensure the students actually know the content

Design:

  • Make the problem compelling
  • Outline expectations
  • The problem analysis should relate to the professoinal field
  • As student proficiency develops, withdraw support
  • Use learning issues to encourage EBP
  • Ensure that solution development is based on critical appraisal

Resources

  • Barrows, HS (1996). Problem based learning in medicine and beyond: a brief overview. New directions for teaching and learning
  • Barrows HS & Tamblyn, RM (1980). Problem based learning: an approach to medicla education. New York, Springer Pub. Co.
  • Hmelo-Silver, C (2004). Problem based learning: what and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3)
  • www.criticalthinking.org