Incorporating a Self-Directed Learning Pedagogy in the Computing Classroom: Problem-Based Learning as a Means to Improving Software Engineering Learning Outcomes

Incorporating a Self-Directed Learning Pedagogy in the Computing Classroom: Problem-Based Learning as a Means to Improving Software Engineering Learning Outcomes

Oisín Cawley (The National College of Ireland, Ireland), Stephan Weibelzahl (The National College of Ireland, Ireland), Ita Richardson (University of Limerick, Ireland) and Yvonne Delaney (University of Limerick, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5800-4.ch018

Abstract

With a focus on addressing the perceived skills gap in Software Engineering (SE) graduates, some educators have looked to employing alternative teaching and learning strategies in the classroom. One such pedagogy is Problem-Based Learning (PBL), an approach the authors have incorporated into the SE curriculum in two separate third-level institutions in Ireland, namely the University of Limerick (UL) and the National College of Ireland (NCI). PBL is an approach to teaching and learning which is quite different to the more typical “lecture” style found in most 3rd level institutions. PBL allows lecturers to meet educational and industry-specific objectives; however, while it has been used widely in Medical and Business schools, its use has not been so widespread with computing educators. PBL is not without its difficulties given that it requires significant changes in the role of the lecturer and the active participation of the students. Here, the authors present the approach taken to implement PBL into their respective programs. They present the pitfalls and obstacles that needed to be addressed, the levels of success that have been achieved so far, and briefly discuss some of the important aspects that Software Engineering lecturers should consider.
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What Is Problem-Based Learning?

“Problem-based learning (PBL) is apprenticeship for real-life problem solving, helping students acquire the knowledge and skills required in the workplace” (Dunlap, 2005). PBL has a long “intellectual history” with its origins in the “philosophies of rationalism and American functionalism” (Dewey, 1929; Schmidt, 1993). Current day PBL emerged in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Case Western Reserve University and McMaster University respectively (Prince & Felder, 2006). In the late sixties, Howard Barrows joined the faculty at McMaster University in Canada. During that time he collaborated with others and developed the approach to learning now called Problem-based Learning (Schmidt & De Volder, 1984). By the early seventies, Problem-based Learning was installed as a total approach to learning and instruction in the Faculty of Health Science at McMaster, with Barrows as its main proponent (Schmidt & De Volder, 1984; Schmidt, 1993b; Barrows, 1986; Barrows & Tamblyn, 1977). Inspired by the success of McMaster, universities around the world introduced Problem-based Learning into their curriculums. These include Maastricht University in the Netherlands, Newcastle University in Australia, the University of New Mexico, Harvard and Sherbrooke University in Canada. This resulted in widespread “cross fertilisation” and networking between the major universities (Barrows, 2000). Problem-based Learning has now spread well beyond the realm of medical education and is now being practiced in other disciplines such as business and engineering (Tan, et al., 2000; Tan, 2003). A number of leading universities now have dedicated PBL Websites. Coupled with this, leading journals on engineering education have dedicated entire issues to PBL (Prince & Felder, 2006).

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