Informatics Education Enhanced by Problem-Based Learning Model via E-Learning: Experience From BSU Project at SUA

Informatics Education Enhanced by Problem-Based Learning Model via E-Learning: Experience From BSU Project at SUA

Camilius A. Sanga, Daniel Wilson Ndyetabula, Sotco Claudius Komba, Safari Mafu
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3132-6.ch019
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This book chapter presents an assessment of the implementation of a blended approach (Problem Based Learning and E-learning) in teaching Research Methods for Computing and Information Management course to Informatics students at Sokoine University of Agriculture, in Tanzania. The respondents comprised of 55 students and 10 instructors from the Department of Informatics. The students were taught Research Methods for Computing and Information Management course for 16 weeks using Problem Based Learning and E-learning principles. The results revealed that the use of Problem Based Learning enabled students to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. Also, it was revealed that, in spite of the benefits of Problem Based Learning and E-learning in improving student-student and student-teacher interactions, the implementation of Problem Based Learning and E-learning in teaching Research Methods for Computing and Information Management course faced a number of contextual and infrastructural challenges such as lack of adequate Information and Communication Technology infrastructure, lack of external support, low Internet bandwidth, inadequate number of computers, lack of knowledge on E-learning and Problem Based Learning by facilitators, and lack of a unified policy for blending approach for teaching and learning different courses in most Higher Learning Institutions of developing countries. This book chapter recommends the adoption of flipped classroom instructional strategy in which Problem Based Learning and E-learning are used to promote student participation during the process of teaching and learning.
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Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a curriculum development and delivery system that recognizes the need to develop problem solving skills (Thomas, 2000). In PBL, the main emphasis is on helping students to acquire knowledge, skills and competences through ‘learn-by-doing’ instructional approaches in which the learners solve both simulated and real life problems. PBL is an instructional approach that has a potential to motivate students to develop flexible understandings and lifelong learning skills. According to Schmidt (1983), PBL provides an environment in which students can draw upon prior knowledge, learn within the real world context and reinforce the knowledge through independent and small group work. In the same light, MacDonald and Issacs (2001) emphasize that PBL focuses more on what students do rather than what the instructor does (i.e. learn by doing). Thus, PBL focuses on learner experience, participant control, learner self-management and self-guidance. When PBL is used as an instructional approach, students learn by solving real life problems and reflect on their experience (Barrow & Tamblyn, 1980). Proponents of contemporary active learning theory assert that PBL is a robust method especially when it is applied in combination with e–learning (Walker & Leary, 2009).

E-learning on the other hand is an education delivery method based on modern method of communication, including the computer and its network with various audio-visual materials, search engines, electronic libraries and websites (Sife, Lwoga, & Sanga, 2007). Generally, this type of education is delivered through the medium of the World Wide Web (WWW) where education institutions develop their programmes and learning materials are available online. Students are able to access the learning materials and interact with authority persons (i.e. instructors or teachers or facilitators) in the institutions through closed or shared networks or the Internet or Intranet or Extranet and also through the use of e-mail and online discussions. The concept of e-education refers to:

The use of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) to enhance or support learning in tertiary education (OECD, 2005, p.11).

Thus, accessibility, usability and affordability of ICT by many citizens have spearheaded the implementation of E-learning worldwide. This has consequently led to the improvement of education as both teachers and students learn through Internet. However, in the 1990s majority of teachers were not using E-learning in their teaching due to high costs involved in constructing infrastructures and accessing the Internet (Kean, 2008). Apparently, with the recent developments in ICT, the cost of accessing Internet through mobile phones has become affordable for most stakeholders of Higher Education in developing countries, including Tanzania.

Rosenberg (2001) observes that since E-learning is networked, it is capable of instant updating, storage/retrieval, distribution and sharing of instruction or information. E-learning is the Internet technology which enhances knowledge sharing either between students and teachers and it offers learners with control over content, learning sequence, pace of learning, time and media (i.e. personalized learning). Thus, E-learning allows learning to be tailored as per experiences of learners to meet their personal learning objectives. In order to activate the learner to solve problem there is a need to use PBL via E-learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Exemplarity: This is a principle of selecting relevant specific learning outcomes and content/scientific knowledge that is exemplary to overall learning outcomes. That is, a problem needs to refer back to a particular practical, scientific and/or technical domain. The problem should stand as one specific example or manifestation of more general learning outcomes related to knowledge an/or modes of inquiry. For learners to be able to apply knowledge and use know-how to complete tasks, the teaching method needs to include a high degree of learner centered and learner activating teaching, such as hands-on workshops and study groups for discussion and peer learning ( Dahms & Zakaria, 2015 ). In order for learners to develop competences, i.e. use knowledge, skills and personal, social abilities in work or study situations, they need to be given the possibility to work independently with real life problems, preferably in project teams ( Dahms & Zakaria, 2015 ).

Problem-Based Learning (PBL): Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving. Students learn both thinking strategies and domain knowledge. The PBL format originated from the medical school of thought, and is now used in other schools of thought too. The goals of PBL are to help the students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation. Problem-based learning is a style of active learning.

Project: This is a complex effort that necessitate an analysis of the target (problem analysis) and that must be planned and managed because of desired changes that are to be carried out in people’s surroundings, organization, knowledge, and attitude to life. It involves a new, complex task or problem; it extends beyond traditional organizations and knowledge; it must be completed at a point in time determined in advance. Projects are necessarily diverse with regard to scope and specific definition. No one specific template or standard exist to define “sufficiency” but rather, these determinations are made within each programme.

Skills: According to UQF (2012 :53), “skills means the ability to apply knowledge and use know how to complete tasks and solve problems. In the context of UQF, skills are described as cognitive involving the use of logical, intuitive and creative thinking or practical involving manual applications and use of the methods, materials, tools and instruments”.

Teaching Portfolio: is a personal document prepared by a lecturer with the aim of improving and documenting his/her teaching competences. It is a dynamic document that changes over time and therefore documents continued professional development as a lecturer. It furthermore serves to give a more public and professional perspective on teaching as a scholarly activity ( Dahms & Zakaria, 2015 ).

Competence: According to UQF (2012 :50), “competence means the proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social abilities in work or study situations and in professional and personal development. In the context of the TQF, competence is described in terms of responsibility and autonomy”.

Study Course: Course required as part of the study programme that introduce students to fundamental concepts, theories or skills of a particular discipline. These courses are assessed (examined) separately from the project courses and project work. Example of study courses is INF318 (Research project) which is offered to BSc. Informatics as independent course done to write a research proposal, implement and write a research report.

Knowledge: According to UQF (2012 :51), “knowledge means the outcome of the assimilation of information through learning. It is a body of facts, principles, theories and practices that is related to a field of work or study. In the context of TQF, knowledge is described as factual and / or theoretical”.

Bloom Taxonomy: It is widely used in higher education for formulating learning outcomes ( table 5 ). In this study, the taxonomy for the cognitive domain of knowledge has been included, although the taxonomy does include also the domains of psychomotor skills and affective attitude as well. The latter two domain taxonomies are not as widely used in higher education as the cognitive domain taxonomy. The original taxonomy, developed in 1956 was revised in 2001 to better conform to an outcomes-based education approach.

Project Courses: Courses offered as part of the study programme that relate directly to the term theme and the students’ project work. Students take a project course on the basis of the course’s relevance to the project work. Example of project course is INF210 (Research Methods for Computing and Information Management).

Learning Outcomes: According to UQF (2012 :51), ‘‘learning outcomes means statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process, which are defined in terms of knowledge, skills and competence. Knowledge, skills and competence form a basis for categorizing learning outcomes’’. The following definitions of the key terms: learning outcome, knowledge, skills and competences, are taken from the Tanzanian Qualifications Framework (TQF)– please follow this link: AU116: URL Validation failed because the page does not exist (HTTP error 404).

Problem: In PBL, a problem can be theoretical, practical, social, technical, symbolic-cultural and/or scientific and it must stem out of students’ wondering within different discipline and professional environment. The problem is the starting point directing the students’ learning process and situates the learning in a context. A chosen problem has to be exemplary. It may involve an interdisciplinary approach in both the analysis and solving phase.

Team: This is a group, sharing and working closely together in design, decision making, analysis and reflection. The binding cooperation of members on successful completion of the project is an essential component of the overall approach to learning. Theoretical and factual information may be transmitted from teacher / instructor to learner through a lecture. Related learner tasks (activating activities) may transform the information into knowledge ( Dahms & Zakaria, 2015 ). Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to resolution of the problem. The role of the instructor (known as the tutor in PBL) is to facilitate learning by supporting, guiding, and monitoring the learning process. The tutor must build students' confidence to take on the problem, and encourage the students, while also stretching their understanding. PBL represents a paradigm shift from traditional teaching and learning philosophy, which is more often lecture-based. The constructs for teaching PBL are very different from traditional classroom/lecture teaching”. Read more about problem based learning here: AU117: The URL has been redirected to Please verify the URL. .

E-Learning: The use of electronic media and information and communication technologies (ICT) in education. E-learning is broadly inclusive of all forms of educational technology in learning and teaching. E-learning is inclusive of, and is broadly synonymous with multimedia learning, technology-enhanced learning (TEL), computer-based instruction (CBI), computer-based training (CBT), computer-assisted instruction or computer-aided instruction (CAI), internet-based training (IBT), web-based training (WBT), online education, virtual education, virtual learning environments (VLE) (which are also called learning platforms), m-learning, and digital educational collaboration. These alternative names emphasize a particular aspect, component or delivery method. Read more about E-learning here: AU115: The URL has been redirected to Please verify the URL. .

Supervisor: The role of the supervisor is one most held by a faculty member or staff or instructor serving as a resource for the groups of students engaged in project work. Each student group has one or more supervision. Supervisor-group relationship does not extend beyond the duration of the project.

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