Problem-based learning?

What is PBL

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which complex real-world problems are used as the vehicle to promote student learning of concepts and principles as opposed to direct presentation of facts and concepts. PBL as it is generally known today evolved from innovative health sciences curricula introduced in Medical faculty at McMaster University in Canada 60 years ago. During the 1980s and 1990s the PBL approach was adopted in other medical schools and became an accepted instructional approach across North America and in Europe. PBL can promote the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills. It can also provide opportunities for working in groups, finding and evaluating research materials, and life-long learning (Duch et al, 2001). PBL is a student-centered, inquiry-based instructional model in which learners engage with an authentic, ill-structured problem that requires further research (Jonassen & Hung, 2008). Students identify gaps in their knowledge, conduct research, and apply their learning to develop solutions and present their findings (Barrows, 1996). Through collaboration and inquiry, students can cultivate problem solving (Norman & Schmidt, 1992), metacognitive skills (Gijbels et al., 2005), engagement in learning (Dochy et al., 2003), and intrinsic motivation. Through PBL, students face real practical problems, which further stimulates them in finding solutions. PBL involves teamwork in finding appropriate sources of information and content relevant to problem solving. Teacher select scenarios and problems or influence them to be selected (students should strive to identify and formulate the problem as independently or in cooperation with market entities) so as to cover a significant part of the subject or group of subjects within which the project is located. The problem is at the center of the action. Through the problem discussion, teacher directs the work of the students and builds the content of the activities until an acceptable solution is reached. Such an approach implies the activation of previous knowledge as a starting point for a new learning process. Provided that students have some prior knowledge of the basic requirements of PBL (principles, group formation, methodology of work, etc.), PBL would basically contain the following basic phases:

PBL cycle

How PBL works

The problem is presented to the students and clarification of vague concepts is approached in order to make the problem easier to understand. Each group member presents ideas that can be discussed or noted as necessary in the problem-solving process (prior knowledge). The problem is analyzed in different ways. Ideas are compared and everyone explains their idea on the basis of acquired knowledge and collected information. Other members and the teacher ask questions and supplement the necessary content to be constituted. The outcomes should be defined after several iterations through specific explanations related to the problem. As students’ knowledge is insufficient, there are dilemmas and ambiguities that lead to the creation of doubts and conflicts between group members. That kind of dilemma between what I know and what I need to learn is the essence of PBL. The questions and dilemmas in this session are translated into outcomes that need to be achieved (realized, realized). Attention should be focused on the parts of the problem that require new knowledge. Students work individually to find answers to the questions defined. Information is collected from the literature and all other sources that students can access individually. Students exchange knowledge and explain the results of work and achievement of outcomes (results of work). In this step, individual work, communicativeness, responsibility, ability to make decisions and the validity of the decisions made are evaluated. Reporting and evaluation need to be designed and institutionalized. It includes all student, teacher (tutor) and PBL process with the intention to improve the learning process and assess individual contributions. It is very important that students comment on the effects of the PBL approach to learning and give their opinion on the quality of the script, the quality of teamwork, literature and the role of the tutor. Qualitative feedback analysis is key to improving the PBL model in the new teaching cycle. PBL without feedback loses its meaning, and the key role of students would be completely disavowed.

Branko Božić

University of Belgrade

Faculty of Civil Engineering

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