Engaging colleagues in Problem-based learning
A while back an Associate Dean asked me: "Are you aware of any research, etc. among persons in the higher education field about "best practices," techniques, and/or new strategies for teaching graduate students at either the masters or PhD level?" My reply: "I would need to dig a bit to point to research, but I have been developing a range of innovations that I'd be happy to share." The Associate Dean's response: "Please don't spend too much time on the graduate teaching innovations. If you can point me to one recent article or book, that would get me started. Of course, if you have some ideas of your own, I'd be pleased to hear them. The reason for the question is that our dean asked us to rethink how we approach graduate education and I thought you might be able to provide some leads."
I would like to ask for your help because I have not gotten to this task on my own. A follow-up request led me to set a deadline for myself for the end of this semester. To break the task into manageable pieces, I decided to start with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) given that is where I have been experimenting most in recent years. But here I need your help for a second reason. You know my basic rationale for PBL (http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/PBLGuidedTour
), but this is mostly PBL as I have invented it for myself. There seem to be a variety of PBLs and there is probably a substantial literature describing, promoting, and evaluating PBL approaches in specific settings. Not only do we—if you accept my request for help—need to make sense of the PBL area beyond my own teaching, but, if we want our report to the Associate Dean to have a chance of influencing faculty, we also need to address the variety of scepticism about PBL.
Here then is my view of a starting point, where the end-point is a decent draft of a briefing that could be distributed to UMB graduate faculty (although undergraduate faculty are welcome to read it also). (By "briefings" I am thinking of something short and thus likely to be read, but that provide or point to key resources, e.g., issues, concepts, arguments, evidence, references, websites, summaries of case studies, quotes, images, organizations, people to contact, research already under way, research questions and proposals.)
- Problem-based learning (PBL) aims to engage students in self-directed inquiry on real world scenarios, which elicit students' curiosity and require them to find and use appropriate learning resources. PBL takes a variety of forms; working cooperatively in groups is often, but not always, involved.
- Proponents of PBL encounter skeptics, who raise a range of concerns: How can instructors be sure to cover the required subject matter when students decide their own focus of inquiry? How can it be shown that PBL students have developed critical thinking and hypothesis-generating skills that researchers need? What evidence is there that shows that the wider social and historical context brought into many PBL scenarios is conducive of subsequent discipline-based studies and systematic inquiry? How can instructors be moved to invest time and take risks to shift from teaching approaches that are familiar and comfortable? How can senior colleagues who do not use PBL understand how to evaluate PBL teachers in promotion reviews?
- In this document the members of a CIT faculty seminar on "Engaging students in a changing university" attempt to counteract sources of skepticism about PBL, encourage UMB graduate faculty members to experiment with PBL in their courses, and provide resources to assist them if they do.
I have some ideas about how I would like to collect data on subject matter coverage from my current PBL course, but, in true PBL style, it is important for participants to start by generating their ideas before the leader injects anything of their own.
revised after test run with a small group of colleagues
1. Read (before the session) and Reread aloud (at the start of the session, participants taking turns to read a paragraph).
2. Initial individual brainstorming (e.g., by freewriting
or Action Research start up sheet
3. Discussion in pairs of items that stand out from #2.
4. Go-around in group as a whole, each person choosing one item to share. If time, go around again choosing a different item. Take note of commonalities and differences.
5. Initial research on the web to explore lines of inquiry that interested participants.
6. Report to group on outcomes of #5.
[This was not done in the test run. It provides some initial gratification and sense of what is possible, before moving on to the more systematic work under #7.]
7. Teasing out, then disciplining possible lines of inquiry using KAQ(F) worksheet.
8. Defining and sharing focused lines of inquiry, with participants requesting to be given progress reports by some others, or even, to collaborate.
9. Research on focused lines of inquiry, with progress reports and revision of lines of inquiry.
10. Work-in-progress presentations
11. Final reports.