March 15, 2008, by Teaching at Nottingham

Using problem-based learning in your teaching – advice for colleagues

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Maggi Savin-Baden: “Start by saying it isn’t particularly new, lots of people assume immediately that it is something new and it’s, you know, all symbols and bright lights, but it isn’t really.

“I mean it starts with the premise that people start learning through a problem situation of some description that is related to that discipline, but I think that some of the things that people miss about it is that it’s important that it’s done in small groups because people learn so much from working in teams.

“And I also think there’s a large spectrum of problem-based Learning, so that you can look at things from a whole pile of different ways so that you’ve got sort of the evangelists that say you can only do it in one way at one end, and then you’ve got the sort of more casual approach where people will just put it in one module of the programme perhaps in the third year. So I think it’s a range and I think that’s one of the things that people miss a lot.”

Kate: “If colleagues in another area, another department, were interested in introducing it, what would you – what advice or tips would you give about the design of PBL?”

Jonathan Ball: “In terms of advice I’d say ‘go for it’. I mean certainly we’re looking at instigating PBL or introducing it in a lot of the postgraduate courses that we run within the school. There are mixed views in terms of whether it’s the more mature students here that take to PBL better because they haven’t got well defined ideas of how they’re going to be taught. Some of them have been out of University for several years.

“Other views are the fact that PBL will work in any age group, but in terms of introducing it I think the Derby model is a good model to follow.”

Maggi: “I don’t think, I mean I’ve met a lot of people who are using it in a wide range – in psychology, in physics, in English (which I think is a particularly interesting area in terms of it’s not professionally related). So I think a lot of people struggle when they think that it has to be related to a profession and certainly the work in English shows that it doesn’t, it’s about thinking creatively, about designing appropriate scenarios for different disciplines.

“But I think one of the things that is important to remember is that there are disciplinary differences and therefore is isn’t a catch-all for everything, and it’s important to look at those kind of pedagogies when you’re implementing it.”

Pete Jennings: “I would say invest in the facilitators, because PBL is such a radical way of educating people in the sense that it doesn’t fit with a lecturer standing up and giving people information.

“And I think that the way education is taking place, and if you look at how people – what their experiences of going through education have been, I think they have an expectation that, “I’ll arrive, someone will tell me what I’m meant to know, and then I can go away and read around it and get ready to recite it for an exam or feed it back on an exam.”

“And PBL is very different and I think by helping the facilitators, training the facilitators and giving them opportunities to engage in PBL themselves, to kind of struggle with this new role that facilitators have, where it’s not my role to know everything about the case, it’s not my role to give students answers, what my role is there to help guide the students in asking questions.

“And I feel that if the facilitators have some clarity around their role, they won’t totally feel comfortable with it at any stage, and I’ve been doing this for 3 years and I still find it very challenging and sometimes I feel like it’s day 1 again. But actually then when the students come who might be brand new to this approach to learning, at least someone in the group knows or has some experience of PBL and can try and tease out from the students maybe the types of behaviours or learning styles or ways of working that PBL aims to kind of develop.”

Maggi: “I think the only risk is lack of preparation, and the only ones I’ve seen fail over the last 15 to 20 years are the ones where staff haven’t been prepared, there’s been no educational development, there’s been no real strategy about the way it’s been implemented in the curriculum and then you end up with a kind of patchwork of the odd problem-based seminar here and there throughout the curriculum and students don’t really know there’s a difference between problem-based learning and other forms of tutorials because it’s not been explained that it is different.

“If you’re wanting to try and convince somebody I would say, well, go and look at the GEM course, or go and look at somebody else’s course in the discipline, and talk to the staff and talk to the students. And the other thing is, is have a go yourself. Take one of your modules, get another supportive member of staff, change it and see what happens.”

Jonathan Ball (School of Molecular Medical Sciences)
Pete Jennings (Graduate Entry Medicine & Health)
Maggi Savin-Baden (External Consultant).

Nottingham staff, and Prof. Maggi Savin-Baden from the University of Coventry, discuss planning, design and staff preparation when considering using PBL as a teaching method. This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection. Produced March 2008.

Posted in Problem based learning