Winter 2000
Vol. 17 No. 4
Publication Number:
USPS 244-800


National Model of Excellence

Soldier and Soldat

Studying Guide-by-Your-Side

Love Those Statistics!

These Were Close, Too

Other Stories
Willingness to Change Made Education School Most Effective

Faculty Compendium

Watching for Patent Expiration Dates Can Save Consumers on prescription Drug Costs

Bennett Cites Influence of a Great Teacher, Dean Percy Burns

A Cappella Choir CD Available

Floyd, Marler Receive $56,000 Lilly Fellows Program Grant

Debow, Sansom Get $32,000 Award from Atlas, Templeton

Samford Honors Alabama Ministers
Scofields Rate a Homecoming Cheer
for Loyal Support of Their Alma Mater

Crimson Editors Half a Century Apart
Find Differences, Similarities in the Job

Having a ball at Homecoming

Men's Cross-Country Team Wins Second TAAC Title; Kolb Named All-TAAC Freshman After Nine-Goal SeasonCLASS NOTES


Winter 2000

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?

Lee Shulman, 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, Indianapolis.

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," she said.

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.