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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 11 | Sep. 5 , 2002

Team-based Approach to Learning Gains Popularity

Finding answers by solving problems

By Hilary Thomson

Students sneaking a snooze in the back row of crowded lecture halls may become a rare sight as problem-based learning (PBL) gains ground on campus.

Traditional lectures see one teacher talking and a large group of students listening. Answers to problems may be found in notes and texts.

The PBL format, however, sees groups of about eight students and a tutor/facilitator discussing complex, real-life issues in tutorial sessions. Students must develop research, critical thinking and communication skills to find their own answers to assigned problems. Education theories suggest when people discover information for themselves they value it more and retain it better.

"PBL is one technique in a growing trend of highly interactive and participatory learning approaches," says Alice Cassidy, associate director at the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth who co-coordinates the PBL network on campus with Ingrid Price, an instructor in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. "PBL encourages higher-order thinking and requires students to take responsibility for their learning."

The faculties of Medicine and Dentistry introduced PBL to campus in 1997 as the model for their shared first two years of curriculum. Since then, Agricultural Sciences and Pharmaceutical Sciences have made substantial changes to integrate the format into their curriculum. Other faculties have adopted PBL for specific courses. "PBL not only develops you as a student but also develops you as a person. Once you get the main concepts, ideas, and research skills - the tool box - you can make your way through problems in life," says Rosy Smit, who co-ordinates UBC's Market Garden since graduating this spring with a degree in Agricultural Sciences.

Tutors are usually faculty members or graduate students and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences is developing senior undergraduates to become tutors. Training ranges from half-day workshops to three-day sessions in basic tutor skills and there is additional support through meetings with colleagues and students, and peer feedback.

The Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences uses the PBL model in some courses in the first two years of the curriculum. In addition, they are building on the PBL concept with a set of courses called Cases in Pharmaceutical Sciences (CAPS) which will be introduced to first-year students in September 2003 as part of the faculty's new curriculum. "We'll give students the building blocks for learning in the first year using case-based workshops," says Lynda Eccott, an instructor in Pharmaceutical Sciences who is helping to develop CAPS in the faculty. "They'll gain the basic skills such as communication, literature evaluation and self-directed learning."

It even works on-line.

Moving a PBL course on-line was a solution for Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Assoc. Prof. Niamh Kelly, and Elizabeth Bryce, a clinical associate professor of Pathology, who co-teach an upper- level science course.

The Internet adaptation solved issues such as maintaining small groups in the face of expanding class sizes, overcoming timetabling barriers for students and making learning accessible for students and health practitioners throughout the province.

Students work in groups of five to six using a private group bulletin board to discuss the assigned questions. Answers are posted to the board so groups can compare and debate differing interpretations. Next steps in developing the PBL network include the first-ever campus-wide tutor-training workshop to be held this fall where aspiring tutors from disciplines across campus can meet.

For more information on PBL on campus contact Cassidy at alice.cassidy@ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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