Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education

Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education

Roisin Donnelly (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch012
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This chapter critically explores the design and implementation of a blended problem-based learning (PBL) module for academic professional development in higher education. A core aspect of the chapter is the overview of the design framework used for the application and specific use of learning technologies in the PBL module. As it would appear that E-Learning courses are often lauded on the basis of their constructivist approach to learning, but in reality sustained inter-student contact and discussion can be difficult, an underlying purpose of the chapter is to show how interactional analysis helps in understanding the potential of transformative pedagogy within blended PBL. This chapter aims to highlight how emerging constructivist theories of learning may be applied to the blend of PBL and E-Learning. It addresses the need for an analysis of the interactions taking place in blended PBL with a specific focus on academic staff who are engaged in professional development in higher education in Ireland. It applies the relevant constructivist theories to the face-to-face PBL tutorials, online discussions, focus group interview texts and reflective papers generated over two years in a professional development module involving 17 academic staff. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the difference that the blended delivery made to both tutors and participants and discusses the design implications of a blended PBL model for the practice of academic development.
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Some of the most innovative E-Learning applications used today tend to be among advocates of a constructivist approach to learning who have high levels of information and communication technology (ICT) skills, often in higher and adult education. Influenced by constructivist philosophy and new learning technologies, there is increasing interest among higher education faculty/academic staff in authentic activities as a basis for learning. In recent years, the integration of constructivist learning theory and problem-based learning (PBL) strategies with online scenarios and virtual role playing have taken student activities to the heart of the curriculum. This chapter explores the constructivist nature of blending face-to-face and online PBL to offer opportunities to educators in higher education seeking to confront pedagogical challenges in their on-the-ground practice.

It is useful here for the context of the study discussed in this chapter to make explicit definitions of the key principles involved: transformative pedagogy, problem-based learning and blended learning. From a definitional perspective, descriptions of transformative pedagogy originated in the adult education literature and Myers (2006) believes it has been regarded as an approach to teaching that encourages students to grapple with disorienting dilemmas, critically examine their assumptions related to the contradictory information, seek out additional perspectives, and ultimately acquire new knowledge, attitudes and skills in light of these reflections – all in order to experience personal and intellectual growth.

Many definitions currently exist in the literature for blended learning; however, the definitions seem to converge around the idea of synthesizing E-Learning with the more traditional forms of teaching and learning, drawing together the “e” with the classroom, the laboratory, the seminar and the tutorial setting. PBL is an educational strategy that involves the presentation of significant, complex and “real-world” problems to students that are structured in such a way that there is not one specific correct answer or predetermined outcome. The blended learning used in this study has been described as a form of complex blending in that it combines face-to-face and online PBL. Savin-Baden (2006) has concluded that the objective of combining PBL and E-Learning is in itself complex. She also recognises that this terminology is problematic since it offers little indication “about the ways in which technology is being used, areas where students interact, which tools are used, how learning materials are selected and applied and the extent to which any of these fit with PBL” (p. 4).

Issues, Controversies, Problems

Blended PBL is a growing field of study whose impact is becoming increasingly relevant in higher education in a period of continuing rapid change and within a set of global challenges. These challenges affect the teaching staff in higher education today, and as a result, the faculty/academic development experts who are charged with easing their transition through the sea-change in how education is delivered. There is currently little evidence of any comprehensive studies into the transformational potential of constructivist blended PBL in faculty/academic development; critical research to date has been sporadic at times but widespread and plentiful in addressing such issues as what is blended learning or PBL and how online PBL occurs.

Although the PBL tutorial is the central and key learning encounter in PBL curricula, and the integration of technology has increased in practice in recent years, surprisingly very little research has been done on what actually happens in blended PBL tutorials. The purpose of this study is to provide research-based information about the realities of delivering a constructivist PBL programme using technology. Central to this study is the role of interactivity and technology in supporting it in the contemporary PBL tutorial classroom, both real and virtual. In view of the constructivist approaches to education now increasingly coming to prominence, it is appropriate to enquire into the perceptions of the academic staff in order to further the effectiveness of interactivity in a blended environment. It is hoped that the presentation and exploration of issues faced by those working with blended PBL tutorial groups will provide fellow researchers and practitioners in the field with a rich text from which they can form their own ideas and research-based practice.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Michael Sherman
Carla R. Payne
Chapter 1
Maria Luisa Pérez Cavana
Taking into account the complexity and multiplicity of constructivist theories, the first part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between... Sample PDF
Closing the Circle: From Dewey to Web 2.0
Chapter 2
Noel Fitzpatrick, Nóirín Hayes, K.C. O’Rourke
Constructivism has become the comfortable face of educational theory in recent years, due in no small part to the mainstreaming of learning... Sample PDF
Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice
Chapter 3
Barbara de la Harpe, Fiona Peterson
There is a strong move worldwide for a constructivist theory to underpin the way teaching and learning are viewed in today’s colleges and... Sample PDF
The Theory and Practice of Teaching with Technology in Today's Colleges and Universities
Chapter 4
Karen Swan, D.R. Garrison, Jennifer C. Richardson
This chapter presents a theoretical model of online learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which is grounded in John Dewey’s... Sample PDF
A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework
Chapter 5
Jennifer Lee, Lin Lin
Based on constructivist principles, this chapter provides a new instructional design map for online learning environments. This instructional design... Sample PDF
Applying Constructivism to Online Learning: A New Instructional Design Map
Chapter 6
Beth Rubin
Constructivist education usually involves authentic assessment, which is affected by the media used to teach. Information technology can enhance or... Sample PDF
Enhancing Authentic Assessment Through Information Technology
Chapter 7
Xenia Coulter, Alan Mandell
The adult college student, caught between the competing demands of work and home, has recently become a valuable commodity in today’s fast-changing... Sample PDF
Nontraditional Students and Information Technology: The Siren Call of the Virtual Classroom and its Impact on Progressive Educational Ideals
Chapter 8
Jakko van der Pol
This chapter aims to perform a thorough analysis of students’ online learning conversations. Although offering a high potential for collaborative... Sample PDF
Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation
Chapter 9
Laura M. Nicosia
Contemporary educators have been reassessing pedagogical frameworks and reevaluating accepted epistemologies and ontologies of learning. The age-old... Sample PDF
Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action
Chapter 10
G. Andrew Page, Radwan Ali
The key idea that sets constructivism apart from other theories of cognition was launched about 60 years ago by Jean Piaget. It was the idea that... Sample PDF
The Power and Promise of Web 2.0 Tools
Chapter 11
Shalin Hai-Jew
This chapter examines some ways information technologies (IT) are deployed in higher education courses to help learners create robust mental models.... Sample PDF
IT-Enabled Strategies for Mental Modeling in E-Learning
Chapter 12
Roisin Donnelly
This chapter critically explores the design and implementation of a blended problem-based learning (PBL) module for academic professional... Sample PDF
Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education
Chapter 13
James G.R. Cronin, John Paul McMahon, Michael Waldron
Reception and use of information technology by lifelong learners within a “blended” learning environment needs to be articulated within a... Sample PDF
Critical Survey of Information Technology Use in Higher Education: Blended Classrooms
Chapter 14
M. Beatrice Ligorio, Nadia Sansone
In this chapter, the case of a blended university course will be described in detail. The main focus of this description will be on how some... Sample PDF
Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching
Chapter 15
Hwee Ling Lim, Fay Sudweeks
As educators utilize an increasingly wide range of technologies for facilitating interaction between distant learning parties, there are concerns... Sample PDF
Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study
Chapter 16
Linda Lohr, Nicholas Eastham, David Kendrick
This case study describes how a constructivist theory of learning guided the design of distributed learning environment for a three credit hour... Sample PDF
Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study
Chapter 17
Alessio Gaspar, Sarah Langevin, Naomi Boyer
This chapter discusses a case study of the application of technology to facilitate undergraduate students’ learning of computer programming in an... Sample PDF
Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology
Chapter 18
John Miller
A central component of constructivist pedagogy at the college level is the modeling and practicing of critical thinking, and since Socrates... Sample PDF
Designing Asynchronous Discussions to Teach Critical Thinking
Chapter 19
Mark H. Schulman
The challenges for Goddard College posed by 21st Century information technologies are their incorporation into, and reflection of, the foundational... Sample PDF
"To Be in Occasional Touch": Goddard College's Progressive Principles and Distributed Learning
Chapter 20
Carol R. Rinke, Divonna M. Stebick, Lauren Schaefer, M. Evan Gaffney
This chapter presents a critical case study on the use of information technology in a pre-service teacher education program. The authors integrated... Sample PDF
Using Blogs to Foster Inquiry, Collaboration, and Feedback in Pre-Service Teacher Education
Chapter 21
Michal Zellermayer, Nili Mor, Ida Heilweil
This chapter describes the learning environment that the authors created for veteran teachers, graduate students in Teaching and Learning who are... Sample PDF
The Intersection of Theory, Tools and Tasks in a Postgraduate Learning Environment
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