Problem-Based Learning Alleviates Student Boredom

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Freeman Hrabowski is leading his university’s effort to empower disadvantaged students in science and math. In this inspiring TED talk, he describes four pillars of success among his minority students:

  1. Set high expectations,
  2. Build community among students,
  3. Keep students working in the lab, and
  4. Get involved in the life of an individual student.

But how would he implement these concepts across the university?

At 12:24, Hrawbowski describes his work this way: “We needed to think about redesigning courses . . . Because so many students are bored in class. Do you know that? Many students, K-12 and in universities, don’t want to just sit there and listen to somebody talk. They need to be engaged.”

In order to engage students and prevent boredom, at 12:53 Hrabowski says they are “using problems out of our biotech companies on our campus, and not giving students the theories, but having them struggle with those theories.”

Application, not theory. What Hrabowski is describing here is a powerful form of pedagogy known as Problem-Based Learning (PBL). This page provides a very basic outline of PBL in a business-school context.

Simply put, PBL means learning by doing. PBL replaces the textbook and the lecture with a clearly-defined problem, which students then work together to solve. The problem must be authentic – that is, based in reality. It’s best to use a question or challenge that real-life professionals (not just academics) have to confront. This scenario forces students to think and collaborate, rather than memorize answers or cram to pass a test. Through the process of solving a problem, students learn from experience and from each other.

This video from Edutopia, filmed on campus at Sammamish High School, shows a few good examples of the kinds of authentic projects that students can tackle:

One group of students had to find out how plants grow in the wild, then replicate that same process in a greenhouse. They drew up architectural designs for their greenhouse and presented their plans to an actual client. As their teacher explains, “When the students know that what they’re doing in the classroom has an audience outside the classroom, it really helps them deepen their thinking on it. And I think that is pretty authentic in terms of what the future work world holds.”

Another example of a great project is a mock United Nations, in which students act as delegates to argue and negotiate over the future of the Arctic. In the process, they learn about climate change, international politics and trade, as well as speech and debate.

Wouldn’t you rather prove what you know through a project, instead of a multiple-choice exam?

But don’t throw away your Scantrons just yet. Tests, too, can be redesigned for problem-based learning with a little imagination. Peter Nonacs, a professor of behavioral ecology at UCLA, tells the story of how he re-thought his final exam. He decided to let his students cheat.

“They could bring and use anything or anyone they liked,” writes Nonacs, “including animal behavior experts. (Richard Dawkins in town? Bring him!) They could surf the Web. They could talk to each other or call friends who’d taken the course before.”

His idea was to get students to learn game theory by living it. In an open exam where students can talk to each other, they were forced to weigh the benefits of collaboration over competition.

“Although by conventional test-taking rules, the students were cheating, they actually weren’t in this case. Instead, they were changing their goal in the Education Game from ‘Get a higher grade than my classmates’ to ‘Get to the best answer.’ This also required them to make new rules for test-taking. Obviously, when you make the rules there is no reason to cheat.”

Nonacs’ flipped exam paid off because it created a learning experiment. “The best tests will not only find out what students know but also stimulate thinking in novel ways. This is much more than regurgitating memorized facts. The test itself becomes a learning experience – where the very act of taking it leads to a deeper understanding of the subject.” Would you agree?

Written by: Michael Mussman
Michael Mussman is Editor of Forward Thinking, the Ashford University blog.

Popular Posts

  • Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Pursue Your MBA If you’re a college graduate, returning to school for your Master of Business Administration (MBA) might not appeal to you. After all, you’ve already spent four years on your Bachelor’s degree. Wh. . . November 24, 2014
  • Best Courses to Become More Marketable Most universities are composed of typical colleges such as the College of Health Care Studies, Business, Education, and Liberal Arts. Within these colleges are various majors a student can choose,. . . September 17, 2013
  • 5 Tips for Transferring Credits One of the best ways to accelerate your graduation day is to transfer credits. But many students find the transfer process very long and complicated. It doesn’t have to be so scary. Here are five . . . November 14, 2013
  • Explore Exciting Jobs in Healthcare You love to help people. You are interested in the science of the human body. And you believe in the value of a healthy lifestyle. If these traits describe you, then you ought to consider a career i. . . March 12, 2014
  • Business School Accreditation — What’s the Difference? When searching for a business school, you may notice that some business programs are accredited by different organizations with acronyms like AACSB, IACBE, and ACBSP. It’s easy to get lost in an alpha. . . May 23, 2014
  • 5 Great Education Documentaries The documentary is an underrated genre in the film industry, often described as one for those who are so “crazy” about a topic, they have to make a film about it. However, some of these “crazy” peop. . . July 12, 2013
  • Words of Advice for Graduates One of my favorite times of the year is commencement. I always enjoy seeing students walk across the stage to celebrate their achievement. When students get close to graduation, you can sense their en. . . March 10, 2014
  • Choose a Relevant Degree Business, English, Law – these are perennial subjects for degree programs, and they’ve stood the test of time. When students enroll in these programs, they already have some idea of what they’ll stu. . . February 5, 2014
  • The Five Toughest Interview Questions Job interviews are nerve wracking for just about anyone, whether you are a seasoned professional or a recent college graduate. The key to calming those nerves is preparation and practice. Prepare for . . . August 30, 2013
  • Advanced Degrees: Which Fields Provide the Highest Paying Jobs? Every spring it’s in the news: colleges are raising tuition. Higher tuition means students will be carrying a larger debt into the workforce, which cuts into their income. Choosing the right field o. . . September 9, 2013
Tags: ,

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...