LTHEChat no. 93 – Problem Based Learning with Chris Owen @chrisowen1711

The next LTHEChat Wednesday 18th October 8-9PM (BST) will be based on questions from Chris Owen @chrisowen1711 on Problem-Based Learning.

Chris is a Teaching Fellow at Aston Business School in Birmingham and is the teaching and learning convenor in the Operations and Information Management Group. After a career in industry and consultancy prior to academia, Chris is interested in preparing students for the complexity and ambiguity of the modern business world and is interested in teaching methods that attempt to address this such as experiential and problem based learning.

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 Why problem based learning?

In their future careers, students will often face complex, ambiguous problem situations. To cope in these contexts, they need a range of skills and competencies. Some of these skills are ‘hard’ analytical skills, but they also need other ‘softer’ skills such as problem structuring, self-management and a range of interpersonal skills.

Problem based learning approaches develop students’ abilities to tackle complex, unstructured problems which are closer to the situations they are likely to face in the future. There is some evidence that PBL improves students’ transferrable skills and engagement and can help with career readiness for business students.

What is problem based learning?

In PBL, which originates from medical education, students are presented with complex, ambiguous problem situations. Importantly, they do not have the knowledge to deal with the problem, part of the challenge for them is that they need to identify and gather the necessary data and understanding to tackle the problem. PBL departs from traditional didactic models of teaching; instead of a teacher, the lecturer is repositioned as a facilitator. No longer the expert, the facilitator empowers the student by supporting them in sharing the ambiguity of the situation whether at the identification, analysis or resolution stages. Faced with the introduction of uncertainty and ambiguity, students more familiar with the security of more didactic pedagogies may initially struggle to adapt to this different form of learning. Some may be fearful that uncertainty in the learning process may compromise fairness and consistency of assessment. Others may be distrustful of the process of skill development and the workload. As a group teaching method, students may be concerned about face saving and rapport.

Who does problem based learning?

PBL originated in medical education, but its application has broadened out into many spheres, and arguably it can have a role in all disciplines.

When and where do we do problem based learning?

At Aston Business School, problem based learning approaches are embedded in both second and final year modules to develop key ‘real world’ problem solving capabilities before and after their placement year. Elsewhere in the University, PBL approaches are used in other schools including, for example, Engineering and Pharmacy.

So what, why does this matter?

As teachers we have a responsibility to prepare our students for their future careers. We know that the level of ambiguity and complexity generally in the world is increasing. The pace of change and the sheer volume of data is challenging. One way to respond to these changes is to try teaching methods which give students the opportunity to develop their own capabilities in responding to these more complex and challenging situations.

An example of a Problem Based Learning Activity

In one final year module, we challenge our students in groups of five, to plan and execute a fundraising activity for a charity of their choice. We give them £50 and challenge them to raise as much money as they can in a 24 hour window of their choosing. They have complete freedom to design the event themselves, whilst complying with the University health and safety policies. This activity requires them to employ problem structuring skills, as well as developing interpersonal skills such as influencing, negotiation and team-working.

Results of last year’s activities

For a good introduction to PBL see (Savin-Baden and Major, 2004).

SAVIN-BADEN, M. & MAJOR, C. 2004. Foundations of Problem-based Learning, Maidenhead, England, OUP, McGraw-Hill.

The storify can be found here

See you Wednesday 18th October, same time, same place. 8-9PM (BST)

The LTHEchat team

About scottturneruon

Associate Professor (Computing and Immersive Technologies). Robots, technology enhanced learning, computing teaching,STEM Ambassador.
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