"University science graduates, after entering the job market, will be required to independently navigate through large amounts of literature looking for reliable sources of information, prioritize their tasks and hypotheses, problem solve, work effectively in a team environment, network, and evaluate job performance of their peers. Even though the above skills are valued by both students and their future employers, most standard university curricula provide very few opportunities for students to develop such skills.
A tutor-less method of conducting problem-based learning (PBL) exercises in large undergraduate classes, which was developed to model the above aspects of post-university real-world workplace experiences of students, will be described. This method has been successfully used in two biochemistry courses on our campus. Our research conducted over the last five years, shows that this mode of instruction leads to statistically significant increase in student satisfaction and engagement. Students also demonstrate statistically significant improvement in their generic problem-solving skills. Data obtained through a large-scale campus-wide study of generic problem-solving skills of undergraduate students on our campus show that majority of courses delivering subject-specific content mainly through classical didactic lecturing do not facilitate development of generic problem-solving skills.
Our preliminary data indicate that working in small groups on ill-defined problems could be one of the strategies for advancing these skills. We believe that evidence-based application of instructional techniques that benefit student problem-solving skill development should be a high priority for curricular development of universities regardless of the programs and specializations that they offer."