Applying problem based learning in a large class

In my education as a teacher, I have learned the importance of active learning and problem based learning in the classroom. I also reflect in my time as a student, and in retrospective I learned the most when I was challenged with applying my knowledge in to a problem or a case study. This is why in the class that I’m teaching at the moment, I am including questions and problems as part of the course.

The biggest challenge I have in my class is that I have 280 students, and the time and care I want to invest in good problem design, grading and feedback is severely limited. I have opted to implement two measures to overcome this challenge:

  1. I include small problems in the form of multiple choice questions in each of my lectures. This questions are only graded for participation and not for correctness, becoming low stakes assignments that allow the students to think without the pressure of grading. We review this short problems immediately during lecture so the students receive feedback in real time.
  2. I designed 6 assignments that the students are expected to complete through out the semester. These are 3-4 short problems where the students need to apply what they have learned and apply it into the solving the problems.

Based on the feedback I have obtained from my students, they really appreciate both activities and they value how these problems have helped them succeed in higher stakes assignments such as quizzes and exams. I am constantly thinking on how to improve on my teaching, thus I believe in future classes I will modify these activities. One thing I want to include is more collaborative learning, for example I want to start giving them time to discuss in class with their peers before submitting their answers. The end goal for me is to be the best instructor so that my students can learn in the most optimum way.

4 thoughts on “Applying problem based learning in a large class”

  1. This is a very thoughtful approach! Giving your students time to discuss with peers before submitting answers to the low-stakes, participation-only end-of-class quizzes will definitely encourage them to seriously think about their answers. Instead of choosing a random answer because they know correctness doesn’t matter, they’ll have to explain it to someone else. This happens to be one of the best ways to learn the material, according to Richard Feynman. If you end up implementing this, I’d be interested to hear how it turns out!

  2. I really like the low-stakes assignments strategy, it keeps the students engaged and focused on learning without worrying about the grade. Additionally, it is a good setup to prepare them for solving the more comprehensive kind of problems. Thanks for sharing these ideas, interested to hear how it evolves by the end of the semester. Which class are you teaching btw?

    1. Hi Sam! I am teaching Biochemistry for non majors (BCHM3114). I have had a great experience teaching this class and my students are very engaged, even in an online environment!

  3. Hello — I agree there are a lot of challenges that come with teaching classes with many students. I really like your approach you took by providing these different options to students. Thank you for sharing. Alexandria Rossi Alvarez

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