Friday, August 21, 2015

Problem Based Learning for Undergraduate Students

Greetings form the famous room N101 at the Australian National University in Canberra, where Associate Professor Andis Klegeris, from University of British Columbia, is  speaking on "Generic problem-solving skills of undergraduate students: strategies for their development and monitoring". He is outlining an approach to use Problem Based Learning (PBL) for large classes of undergraduates, without needing large numbers of tutors.
Professor Klegeris points put that conventional lectures does not teach the skills looked for in graduates (typically described as "graduate attributes"). Lectures teach students to listen and take notes (hopefully), but not more active skills. He also pointed out that BPL has limitations, such as the knowledge the students learn is disorganized, evaluation is difficult and the amount of information transferred is lower.

Professor Klegeris described how he uses PBL for his biology classes of about 100 students. He uses two 90 minute lecture periods per week, with 57% made up of traditional lecture content (didactic), two problem based classes (23% of the time).

Professor Klegeris uses a conventional classroom, but up to 890% full to allow for group work. He switches from lecturing to facilitating mode during the sessions.  Students are preassigned to groups and immediately start reading the problem, working on it and discussing it in their groups, followed by hole room discussion. One interesting aspect is that there is no preparation required of the students. Also textbooks, computers and Internet access is not permitted.

This is interesting as it differs from the "flipped class" where the students watch videos and read materials to prepare for the classroom work. Professor Klegeris approach appears similar to the MIT iCampus, but without the specialized "TEAL" rooms and teaching assistants.

Also the banning of reference sources and Internet access is unusual. Presumably Professor Klegeris permits the use of devices for students who have disabilities.

One interesting point wast that Professor Klegeris allocates 5% of grade for group participation, which is peer assessed. He commented that since switching to peer assessment he has received no complaints from students.

Professor Klegeris presentation gives me the confidence to make some changes in the teaching of my own courses.

Professor Klegeris'  paper "Improvement in Generic Problem-Solving Abilities of Students by Use of Tutor-less Problem-Based Learning in a Large Classroom Setting" is available
on-line. He will be in Cairns next week for a scientific conference and is happy to repeat his presentation on PBL if a local institution can provide a venue.

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