Effectiveness of Problem-Based Learning Implementation

Effectiveness of Problem-Based Learning Implementation

Savitri Bevinakoppa (Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia), Biplob Ray (Central Queensland University, Cairns, Australia) and Fariza Sabrina (Mebourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJQAETE.2016070104


Problem-Based Learning (PBL) exercises have been proven to be an effective teaching method for preparing the students as work ready graduates. Students work on a real world industry based problem of relevant discipline. It also help students to improve their capability of critical analysis. PBL has been adopted in educational practise in many disciplines. In this paper, the authors explore the various existing PBL practices, develop, implement a model and analyse the effectiveness of the implementation. This paper explains few exemplars of PBL, their implementation method and analysis of students' feedback. Paper concludes with the direction of the authors' future work.
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1. Introduction

Problem Based Learning (PBL) mainly has been used in the medical science area, since its development by Barrows and Tamblyn at McMaster University in 1980 (Major & Palmer, 2001). It is viewed as a successful strategy to align university courses/units with the real life case studies and students be able to ready as work ready graduates (Biggs & Tang, 2007; Pawson, Fournier, Haigh, Muniz, Trafford & Vajoczki, 2006). It was since introduced in educational practice in all of the areas such as health sciences, engineering, business, science, education etc. courses/units in many universities worldwide. Over the last 15 years, many Australian universities have also adopted PBL as an instructional approach either in a 'pure' or a 'hybrid' form. In the pure form of PBL, the entire course is delivered using the PBL instructional approach, with no traditional lectures involved. As an example Monash University offers Business strategy courses in Peninsula campus using pure PBL instructional approach (Problem-based learning, n.d.). In the 'hybrid' form, PBL approach is blended with tradition instructional approach such as in lectures, laboratories, tutorials etc. For example, computer science courses of University of Sydney (Barg, Fekete, Greening, & Hollands, 1999). Based on the nature of students enrolment in networking and engineering courses in Melbourne Institute of Technology (MIT), we practice 'hybrid' form of PBL.

PBL is one of the teaching and learning strategies, which is an open-ended and ill structured problem. There are many definitions in the literature to define PBL. None-the-less all definitions might have slight variation based on the context PBL is implemented, the main concept of all those definitions attempts to frame same view. A working definition of PBL which will be suitable for the 'hybrid' approach used at MIT is:

Problem-based learning use stimulus material to engage students in considering a problem which, as far as possible, is presented in the same context as they would find it in ‘real life;’ this often means that it crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. Information on how to tackle the problem is not given, although resources are available to assist the students to clarify what the ‘problem’ consists of and how they might deal with it. Students work cooperatively in a group or team with access to a tutor who can facilitate the learning process.

The above definition is adopted from (Boud & Feletti, 1998) and modified to fit in our context. This paper explores the various existing PBL practices, develop a model to satisfy MIT courses and benchmark with practices at other higher education institutions. This will also contribute to standardising MIT PBL practice across all schools (IT & Engineering and Business).


2. Background

Problem Based Learning (PBL) is an learning approach, that is characterised by flexibility and diversity that can be implemented in a various ways in diverse contexts' to improve on students’ deep learning capability. Researchers from within Australia have commented on the lack of a deep approach to learning and thus employers’ dissatisfaction with graduates (Cope, Staehr & Horan, 2002; Tan, 2008). The framework for success based on promoting a deep learning approach includes:

  • Assessment tasks that demonstrate conceptual understanding;

  • The emphasis is on depth of learning rather than breadth of coverage;

  • Tackle real world problems/scenario.

PBL can be a combination of cognitive and social constructivist theories, as developed by Piaget and Vygotsky, respectively (Ozer, 2004). Both cognitive and social constructivist theories state the importance of deep learning using unstructured problem context that closely resemble future professional problems. According to Savin- Baden (Savin-Baden, 2001), PBL is characterized by several pedagogical approach including:

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