This week we had a group of readings on problem-based learning. While I believe PBL is a good idea in education, I think it should be only implemented where the material allows and where all group members can benefit.

Over-analysis of groupwork

Unfortunately certain problems require a detailed study of the fundamentals before students can even begin to solve them. While some intro-level courses may get away with answering basic problems, beyond students really need to read and consider the ideas of others on general principles before tackling in-depth topics.

I also believe that PBL in certain disciplines can have a negative effect on the way people approach problems in their future work. For instance, consider the UVA med school example we read about in the UVA magazine. If these students are only presented with particular faculty-created problems (with an attainable answer), they may enter the profession with the mindset of solving problems when some health issues are not presented in such a clear-cut manner. Some health concerns are even unsolvable, so how would these learners address them?

Group frustrations-
We’ve all been in that group where the work distribution did not fall equally. For students who enter class in an attempt to learn and struggle with their own limits, working with others can hinder this process. And it is really frustrating to get a lower grade on a project due to the errors made by others.

Otherwise, count me in on the PBL movement.

3 thoughts on “On PBL

  1. I agree with you that PBL approach may not be always a success story for every one. Students engage in learning activities and spend more time when they are motivated. PBL requires significant amount of study time in intense researching and learning fundamentals by own. If a student receives PBL from all the classes, then it could create tremendous pressure. Students can be even demotivated by this.

  2. On the material part, I agree with certain qualifications…I think there are scenarios where you can design the class to build on itself and doing P/TBL where you release material on a step-by-step basis is perfect.

    I also think that a lot of undergrad students need the structure related to a “solvable” problem where, maybe at the end of it, you can disclose/reveal how complex the issue they’ve dealt with can be in the real world. At some level, though, the need to be rewarded (i.e. completing the problem and arriving at an answer??) for the work they do. If you’re really against the “right” answer approach — and I don’t think all or even most PBLs are like that — you could probably be creative in how you supply them with the rewarding “fuel” of completing the problem.

    Great and thought-provoking post!

  3. Regarding group frustrations- while it sucks to deal with that, and nobody wants to get a bad grade because of someone’s slacking, it could be argued that those kind of frustrations are ubiquitous in any line of work. Learning how to deal with that when the consequence is a B instead of a A is better than learning to deal with it when the consequence is losing your job.

    – Adam (TA)

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