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
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