Problem-based learning - notes from the ESCalate seminar

The Problem-based learning seminar held at the GTCS on February 27th 2009

Problem-based learning (PBL) contains its own problems; it is heavy on time and resources and this might not sit too well with the need for efficiency saving demanded by institutions; it is not always welcomed by students who are reluctant to read or embrace independent learning; it is difficult to construct scenarios which do not problematise the child. However Problem-based learning (also known as contextualised learning or issues based learning) presents various advantages for teacher education and is a most valuable way of working with students and teachers. The following ideas are from delegates from the above seminar and stress the benefits of PBL and what to consider to ensure those benefits are maximised.

Some advantages of PBL

  • It allows teachers to talk about the pupil voice all the time;
  • It asks students to consider the language they use to conceptualise pupils and to problematise it;
  • It encourages students and teachers to understand themselves and their assumptions;
  • It encourages students to picture the whole child and asks for an emotional engagement/investment;
  • It asks the question: ‘What are the barriers to learning?’
  • The student can drive the scenario with the tutor

Hints for successful scenario writing and delivery

  • Scenarios must be capable of opening out a multi-response environment – providing a multi crossroads for students with many paths that can lead from the central problem;
  • Which is more important - the scenario or the pedagogy? The process or the product? Opinion is divided; although the process is seen as more important, it is vital to remember that getting the scenario ‘right’ is very difficult and very complex;
  • Give a bit of a scenario to students, an initial prompt rather than a full scenario, then the students have to find out what more they need to know. Use it early in the course and keep doors open;
  • Ensure that students realise that the problem is not necessarily in the child nor in the solution they find;
  • The first step should be that students look at themselves;
  • Start from the Learning Objectives, then identify the situation. Do not have any preconceptions but do have the Learning Objectives;
  • Create cognitive conflict as the scenario must push understanding further;
  • Go for creative tension, constructive conflict, by having lots of different scenarios or lots of groups in the room;
  • Take a journal article as the focus and ask ‘What does this mean to you?’;
  • One group’s 5 point plan to scenario writing:

1.What do you want to achieve from the scenario? Students and teachers who think

2.Create scenarios that make students question and want to read

3.Create scenarios that encourage student to reflect upon their own practice/reflect upon learners

4.Make sure the scenario(s) is/are accessible

5.Praxis – consider how it will work in practice