PBL Learning: Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Disclaimer: I held many reservations toward problem-based learning (PBL) projects being used in undergraduate courses before beginning this week. Before the course, I was familiar with the concept but primarily saw PBL implemented in not higher but secondary education contexts. My outstanding reservation for using PBL in collegiate pedagogy stemmed from concerns of time and measurable, beneficial learning outcomes for students. For instance, I usually teach history courses at Virginia Tech that meet three times a week, 50min each meeting. To include lecture, PBL tasks, and submission of product(s) to assess, I originally believed, would be impractical and rushed\

As I began to dig into the assigned literature for this week, especially Harold White’s “Dan Tries Problem-Based

“Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements”

Learning: A Case Study,” I began to see a more practical way to construct a PBL. Per the experiences raised by White in his article, so to “encourage students to take charge of their education;” a direct echoing of student-centered learning approaches. It helped to design to my own PBL proposal around groupings, where shared responsibility and encouragement is conducive to the effectiveness of the group. At the end of the day, I decided to explore two possible topics for a PBL project: the global experience of the 1945-46 Nuremberg Trial of Nazi war criminals, or the legacy of the Reconstruction Era in American history. The latter proved to be the most suitable, as it assisted in my drafting a central compelling question to answer: “Did Reconstruction after the Civil War succeed or fail in its goals?”

I look forward to seeing how my other colleagues designed their own PBLs seen through a variety of disciplines. I am especially interesting in seeing how PBL’s are constructed within hard sciences like physics, chemistry, and/or biology. Because such courses are more structured around manuals and laboratory settings it will be interesting to see how my colleagues sought to incorporate student-centered learning principles like student voice and choices.

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