This article is aimed at supporting academic staff in universities and colleges who have begun or are considering introducing online problem-based learning (OPBL) for students’ learning. OPBL is a promising combination of pedagogical innovations and technological solutions that support and enhance each other. In this article, we will examine the perceptions present in higher education today that are connected with the development within the research fields of e-learning and problem-based learning. This article is based on the recent and extensive emergence of literature on online learning, and the success of problem-based learning (PBL). Traditionally, PBL has usually been conducted in a face-to-face setting. Whilst there is a growing research- base in the area (Donnelly, 2005; Koschmann, 2002; Portimojärvi, 2006; Uden, 2005; Valaitis, Sword, Jones, & Hodges, 2005), it is fair to say that less is still known about the use of PBL in the electronic-based distance-education “virtual classroom.”
Background: From Face-To-Face To Online Pbl
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a comprehensive approach to learning environments, curriculum, learning, studying, and teaching. It is grounded in experiential, collaborative, contextual, and constructive theories of learning, and it has clear points of convergence with processes of everyday learning and action. PBL can be used in many formats, such as small-group tutorials, problem-based lectures, large-group case method discussion, and problem-based laboratories (Kaufman, 1995). However, it is used most commonly in small groups with a facilitator. There have been oft-cited multipurposes to PBL, with these mainly being cognitive effects on students’ learning: increased retention and higher comprehension of knowledge (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993), and in the literature, there are examples that PBL is a valid and valuable means of increasing student learning in any online class where higher-order learning is desirable (Ronteltap & Eurelings, 2002). Further benefits of online PBL are the development of self-directed learning skills, and the enhancement of students’ intrinsic interest in the subject matter, and improved interpersonal skills and teamwork.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Computer-Mediated Communication: The core activity of computer-mediated communication involves individual members of a learning community composing text at a computer that is networked: the text may be read and responded to by others in that community, wherever they are and whenever they choose. Contributions are held on an archived network and the effect is a kind of unfolding, written conversation.
Online Learning Community: An online learning community is a common place on the Internet that addresses the learning needs of its members through proactive partnerships. Through social networking and technology, people work as a community to achieve a learning objective, as defined by the educator. An online community is also where people can talk to each other via microphones and other related sources via the Internet
Asynchronous Communication: This form of electronic communication does not rely on participants being available at the same time in order to converse. Examples of this two-way communication include e-mail, and electronic forums (often called conferences, bulletin boards, or discussion forums). Participants are able to respond at their own pace and in their own time.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): This is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application, encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, satellite systems, and so on, as well as the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance learning. ICTs are often spoken of in a particular context, such as ICTs in education, health care, or libraries. The term is somewhat more common in Europe than the U.S.
Videoconferencing: A videoconference (also known as a videoteleconference) is a set of interactive telecommunication technologies that allow two or more locations to interact via two-way video- and audio transmissions simultaneously. It has also been called visual collaboration and is a type of groupware. The core technology used in a videoteleconference system is digital compression of audio and video streams in real time.
Collaborative Learning: An instruction method in which students work in groups toward a common academic goal.
Distance Learning: A type of education, typically college-level, where students work on their own at home or at the office, and communicate with faculty and other students via e-mail, electronic forums, videoconferencing, chat rooms, bulletin boards, instant messaging, and other forms of computer-based communication.
Synchronous Communication: Two-way communication that requires participants to communicate at the same time, though they may be separated geographically. Webcams, videoconferencing and instant messaging are examples. In PBL online, times may be set for synchronous discussion between virtual group members and the tutor.