Problem based learning has been promoted widely for its capacity to facilitate 'deep' learning among students and to enable them to develop their skills in critical, creative and operational thinking. The extent to which the approach provides the tangible outcomes it claims has been the subject of considerable debate, particularly in areas other than professional courses such as medicine and architecture. This paper provides an evaluation of the trialling of a problem based learning approach in the teaching of research methods to undergraduate students in a generalist Bachelor of Arts degree. The paper will outline the strategies used in implementing a problem based learning approach in the subject, including the impact of the approach on subject content, learning activities, assessment strategies and student/lecturer interaction. It will also discuss the role of group work and the ways in which group activities were used to facilitate student learning. The evaluation of the trial included both quantitative and qualitative data, focusing particularly on the feedback by students on their perceptions of the effect of the use of the Problem Based Learning approach on their learning and their learning strategies. The data identifies that students found that their skills and competency increased considerably in a range of key areas including their capacity to evaluate, to make decisions, to select strategies, to ask questions, to analyse problems, to identify particular needs and to identify and locate key resources. The data also indicates increasing levels of confidence in generating ideas, in 'risk taking', in working collaboratively with others, and in their capacity to transfer the skills and knowledge developed into other aspects of their lives including their studies.
The subject: background and context
The Research Project
Staff reflections on the use of PBL