Verdict Still Out, but
PBL Offers Undergrads Definite Advantages
|Why Problem-Based Learning?
One of the most compelling arguments is the increasing pressure
on higher education to produce competent graduates with both
knowledge and skills, according to Russell Edgerton, director
of the Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning.
PBL isn't new. It's been around for years in medical and engineering
schools. It's what Jerome Brunner described more than 30 years
ago in his book, Learning by Discovery. But the idea of undergraduate
PBL has been slow to catch on.
The majority of faculty "are still wed to ideas which marginalize
teaching" in favor of academic research, Edgerton said at
the recent PBL 2000 conference. Even so, he sees a growing respect
for scholarly, reflective teaching.
Barbara Duch of the University of Delaware makes a PBL point.
This teaching approach fits nicely with the guide-by-your-side
technique of PBL. But would it provide undergraduates the right
mix of scholarship and practical education?
center, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching, shares insights with John Harris, Samford associate
provost, and Ruth Ash,
Samford education dean
during PBL 2000.
PBL-which emphasizes collaborative problem solving and downplays
the traditional lecture-received one of its most thorough examinations
yet at PBL 2000, which Samford hosted in October. Almost 700
educators from 30 states and seven foreign nations delved into
various aspects of the topic at 121 sessions over three days.
The verdict is still out, but PBL offers some clear advantages,
according to Trudy Banta of Indiana UniversityPurdue University,
Its effectiveness in medical education has been documented, said
Banta. While this isn't necessarily so at the undergraduate level,
PBL seems to offer students the prospect of improved postgraduate
performance and satisfaction, reduced classroom stress and more
collaboration with faculty. How best to implement undergraduate
PBL and objectively measure its results requires further study.
"It seems that is part of Samford University's mission,"
Samford-with the help of two major grants totaling $1.75 million
from The Pew Charitable Trusts-has assumed a leadership position
in PBL. Since 1998, Samford has developed more than 50 PBL courses
in five schools across its undergraduate curriculum. The University
also serves as an international clearinghouse for PBL information;
it is establishing an international center for the review of
PBL course portfolios.
Keynoter Lee Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for
the Advancement of Teaching, noted that Brunner's book argued
that "learning by discovery" would be "more engaging,
more powerful and have results more persistent and enduring"
than traditional, didactic learning.
"This was not a simple question," he said. "It
varies enormously depending on whom you are teaching, what you
are teaching, to what end and in what kind of context."
PBL may be a little like the drug penicillin, said Shulman, in
that it is not a cure-all for everything.
Wim Gijselaers of Maastricht University, the Netherlands, said
there is anecdotal evidence PBL gives both students and faculty
more satisfaction even if it does not dramatically improve skills
or deepen understanding. Several speakers said that benefit alone
was reason enough to incorporate PBL into undergraduate education.