Trying to answer Dan’s article questions

I have been doing some research on team-based learning (TBL) and problem-based learning (PBL) for a while. I have also implemented the strategies in some of my previous classes. I think PBL is a great strategy, specially in engineering, to develop some skills that are desired in engineers like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, and multidisciplinary collaboration.

However, implementing a PBL environment is not an easy task. It requires a lot of research and also requires a lot of time. I just read an article about an Anthropology professor (Dan) implementing PBL for the first time in his classroom. It looks like he didn’t plan things going that bad. Through the article there are some questions for the reader about the situation and how he/she would have done things differently.

Even when I’m not close to be an expert on PBL, and my experience implementing it is limited, I’ll try to answer some of questions (the ones that I see more relevant) hoping that more people can agree/disagree and add to the discussion.

What decisions related to organization and process would you need to make if you were going to follow Dan’s lead and give problem-based learning a try?

There are several things that need to be done before implementing PBL in a classroom. Some of the things that I find important are:

1. Providing a lot of support and access, students need to know that the professor is involved and they can count on him/her.

2. Having the correct learning environment (physical). Students require the space to meet and be able to have loud discussions or brainstorming sessions without affecting other students.

3. Having external support, I think is important if students can have access to external persons involved in the problem they are trying to solve. I believe is very important that the issue is as real as possible.

Some of Dan’s colleagues worry that Dan covers less material using PBL. How should Dan respond to those concerns?

In my experience in engineering we implement PBL as a the final project of the class, however another strategies are developed to assure that the students cover all the required materials and develop all the content knowledge. Sometimes that mean doing some lectures, implemented TBL as well, or having several sessions for class discussion of important theories.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of forming groups the way Dan did? Should Dan let students form their own groups?

I think that groups are a very important issue when implementing PBL. One of the things with group formation is that students need to adapt to whatever they have to in order to learn how to work in diverse teams, because that is what happens in industry. When they decide their own teams it is more likely that they will work with their friends. When you work in industry you don’t get to work with your friends. However, I don’t think that spending that much time designing the teams is effective. I would do it randomly based on the attendance of the first day. I think that is the setting that will be more similar to real world.

What might Dan have done to make the first class better? Were the comments he overheard legitimate student concerns? How should he deal with them?

I think the students concerns are totally legitimate, they are entering a new space with few information about it, change is always complex for humans. I would say instead of discussing the syllabus and having students make recommendations on the first class, it would be more beneficial to spend some time explaining them why they will be doing PBL, what are the benefits of the strategy, how they will be impacted in their professional career by the experience, and explaining how cool the problem they will solve is.

What do you all think?

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One Response to Trying to answer Dan’s article questions

  1. Miko says:

    Hello Homero,
    Very nice post. I also think that TBL and PBL can be effective when resolving conflict. Peers who do not seem to get along well or who are not too familiar with others can see a lot of benefit when working in teams. Of course, there should be some regulation, but these collaborations can foster stronger and better relationships.

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