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Studium Biologie For lecturers

Problem Based Learning

Student's benefit:
Students learn critical thinking and problem solving skills, and they aquire knowledge of the essential concepts of the course. Students acquire Life Long Learning skills and are prepared for scientific approaches. Allows stundents to work in small groups. Learning through peer- and self-evaluation.

Teaching enrichment:
It is a student-centered approach. Typically, students find it more enjoyable and satisfying. It encourages greater understanding. Students with PBL experience rate their abilities higher, PBL develops lifelong learning skills. Problem-based learning is an example of an active teaching method, because it requires students to question, to speculate and to generate solutions.


Student-centered learning

Problem-based learning (PBL), at its most fundamental level, is an instructional method characterized vy the use of "real world" problems as a context for students to learn critical thinking and problem solving skills, and acquire knowledge of the essential concepts of the course. Using PBL, students acquire life long learning skills which include the ability to find and use appropriate learning resources. The process used in PBL is the following:
1. Students are presented with a problem (case, research, paper, video tape, for example). Students (in groups) organize their ideas and previous knowledge related to the problem, and attempt to define the broad nature of the problem.
2. Throughout discussion, students pose questions, called "learning issues", on aspects of the problem that they do not understand. These learning issues are recorded by the group. Students are continually encouraged to define what they know - and more importantly - what they don't know.
3. Students rank, in order of importance, the learning issues generated in the session. They decide which questions will be followed up by the whole group, and which issues can be assigned to individuals, who later teach the rest of the group. Students and instructor also discuss what rexources will be needed in order to research the learning issues, and where they could be found.
4. When students reconvene, they explore the previous learning issues, integrating their new knwoledge into the context of the problem. Students are also encouraged to summarize their knowledge and connect new concepts to old ones. They continue to define new learning issues as they progress through the problem. Students soon see that learning is an ongoing process, and that there will always be (even for the teacher) learning issues to be explored.

Whar is the faculty role in PBL? The instructor must guide, probe and support students' initiatives, not lecture, direct or provide easy solutions. The degree to which a PBL course is student-directed versus teacher-directed is a decision that the faculty member must make based on the size of the class, the intellectual maturity level of the students, and the instructional goals of the course. When faculty incorporate PBL in their courses, they empower their students to take a responsible role in their learning - and as a result, faculty must be ready to yield some of their own auhority in the calssroom to their students.

The primary challenge is the focus on introducing concepts to students by challenging them to solve a real problem. Therefore, a critical factor in the success of PBL is the problem itself. What are the characteristics of good problems? Where can you find problems or cases in your discipline to use in your courses?

Essential factors for good problems:
1. An effective problem must first engage students' interest, and motivate them to probe for deeper understanding of the concepts being introduced. It should relate the subject to the real world, so that students have a stake in solving the problem.
2. Good problems require students to make decisions or judgements based on facts, information, logic and/or rationalization. Students should be required to justify all decisions and reasoning based on the principles being learned. Problems should require students to define what assumptions are needed (and why), what information is relevant, and/or what steps or procedures are required in order to solve them.
3. Cooperation from all members of the student group should be necessary in order to effectively work through a good problem. The length and complexity of the problem or case must be controlled so that students realize that a "divide and conquer" effort will not be an effective problem-solving strategy. For exmple, a problem that consists of a series of straight-forward "end of chapter" questions will be divided by the group and assigned to individuals and then reassembled for the assignment submission. In this case, students end up learning less not more.
4. The initial questions in the problem should have one or more of the following characteristics so that all students in the groups are initially drawn into a discussion of the topic:
- open-enden, not limited to one correct answer
- connected to previously learned knowledge
- controversial issues that will elicite diverse opinion
This strategy keeps the students functioning as a group, drawing on each other's knowledge and ideas, rather than encouraging them to work individually at the outset of the proble.
5. The content objectives of the course should be incorporated into the problems, connecting previous knowledge to new concepts, and connecting new knowledge to concepts in other courses and/or disciplines.

In addition to these characteristics, good problems should challenge students to achieve higher-level critical thinking. Too often, students view learning as remembering facts, terms and definitions in order to answer questions on tests. Many students seem to lack the ability or motivation to go geyond factual material to a deeper understanding of course material. PBL problems should strive to induce students to learn at the higher Bloom levels, where they analyze, synthesize and evaluate rather than simply define and explain.

A Level 1 problem is a typical end-of-chapter problem, at Bloom's Knowledge or Comprehension cognitive level. The problem is generally confined to the topic(s) addressed in the chapter, and all the information needed to solve the problem is given.

A Level 2 problem adds a story-telling aspect to the end-of-chapter problem. This adds some motivation for students to solve the problem. This adds some motivation for students to solve the problem, and it requires students to go beyond simple "plug-and-chug" in order to solve it. There may even be some decision-making involved, placing the questioning at Bloom's Comprehension or Application level. All the information needed to solve it is given in the problem or the chapter.

A level 3 problem is a good PBL problem, at Bloom's Analysis, Synthesis or Evaluation levels. It is related to the real world, drawing the student into the problem. Not all the information needed is given in the problem, or chapter, or perhaps even in the textbook. Students will need to do some research, discover new material, arrive at judgements and decisions based on the information learned. The problem may have more than one acceptable answer, based on the assumptions studentsmake.

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