The Introduction of a Problem-Based Learning Approach to the Implementation of a Virtual Reality Context

The Introduction of a Problem-Based Learning Approach to the Implementation of a Virtual Reality Context

Anthony Williams (The University of Newcastle, Australia), Ning Gu (The University of Newcastle, Australia) and Leman Gul (International University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-517-9.ch013
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Problem-Based Learning has provided a strategy for curriculum development and delivery for decades. The focus of Problem-Based Learning on a central problem which drives the learning as well as the need for a “real world” context which engages and challenges the student to take ownership of their learning is a strategy that lends itself to the adoption of Virtual Reality. The implementation of Virtual Reality into a Problem-Based Learning environment provides student with challenges with confronting design management but also forecasts what environments they will work in as graduates and professionals. The following chapter reports on the implementation of Virtual Reality into a Problem-Based Learning initiative.
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Problem-Based Learning has been a significant force in higher education for more than thirty years. Problem-Based Learning (commonly referred to as “PBL”) has been controversial since its earliest beginnings, but has initiated change in higher education, for the most part in professional education (Architecture, Engineering, Law, Medicine, etc.). With the recent developments in information and communication technologies, employing new technologies and techniques in professional education have been adopted and encouraged. In particular, virtual reality technology provides many opportunities for educators and students as both a new teaching and learning platform. This chapter brings together the introduction of PBL as a learning environment for the introduction of Virtual Reality as a context for design and design collaboration.

Interest in alternative educational approaches to higher education through the 1980s and 1990s were primarily driven by socio-political pressure for reform in higher education, and accountability to a widening field of stakeholders led by industry employers and the professions, and supported by government and the general community (Cowdroy, 1985). PBL had been introduced in the late 1960s by Donald Woods of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada as an innovative educational approach to undergraduate Engineering education (Woods, 1985). Impetus was given to PBL by its adoption, more or less simultaneously in the early 1970s, by undergraduate programmes in Medicine at McMaster (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) and at Maastricht (Netherlands) (Norman, 1988), followed in the late 1970s by Medicine at Newcastle (Australia).

These pioneering excursions into PBL therefore resulted in six distinct forms of PBL, unified in their common objectives of relevance and integration (in the mind of the student) through problem-solving praxis, and were therefore bona fide PBL models using a variety of educational strategies to achieve those objectives. Other “pretenders” also emerged, many based on traditional case studies, internship practices and Beaux Artes and Bauhaus studio approaches; however, the focus in these cases was on behaviour apprenticeship, with minimal recognition of the cognitive learning processes involved, particularly integration (of learning components, skills and attitudes) in the mind of the student, and how that integration is assessed (Biggs, 1999). Also, many programmes that were initially set up as bona fide PBL approaches have since gravitated into the ranks of pretenders as ad hoc incremental changes to content, delivery methods and assessment methods have occurred as a result of “generational change” as the original developers have moved on to other institutions or have moved up into faculty or university management. Consequently, the essential educational loop (of correlated objectives, curriculum, teaching method, assessment and evaluation of outcomes) has dissolved, and the essence of PBL has been forgotten.

Together, these six varied types of PBL achieved some spectacular successes in staff and student satisfaction, community support and high accreditation, and fostered wider adoption of PBL in its various forms, particularly in Architecture, Engineering, Law, Medicine, Nursing and related fields of professional education (Chen et al., 1993). A variation on a combination of Schön’s and Woods’ themes was a “cognitive apprentice” model (also called “PBL”) developed by Howard Barrows (1986) for medical education. The Medical Model based on Barrows’ Cognitive Apprenticeship approach has spread widely across undergraduate education in Medicine and Nursing and other health profession fields, and is the dominant form (sometimes considered the only form) of PBL. The Block Model developed for Architecture at Delft has spread widely in Architecture, Engineering and some Science and Health fields, particularly in Northern Europe and is attracting increasing attention as a more economical model than the Medical Model. The Apprentissage par Problème model developed by UQAM is relatively new but has attracted increasing attention, particularly in Science education in North America and Europe where reform of Science education is high on the political agenda (Smaglik, 2005). The Integrated Learning and Research-Based Learning models developed for Architecture at Newcastle have attracted considerable attention in Australia, the UK and Europe as ideals of educational development (Eraut, 1994), and have been extensively adapted to other traditional studio-based programmes in Architecture and allied disciplines, but particularly in postgraduate and professional development programmes.

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