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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What is Problem-Based Learning?

When mentoring our pre-service and in-service teachers we need to describe and model both research-based and clinically tested best practices, and demonstrate how these best practices can be applied in the real (i.e. physical) and virtual (i.e. online) classroom for both teaching and teacher training. The combination of face to face instruction in a physical setting and online learning is called blended learning. In this section of the blog we will describe how the internet can serve as a supplemental resource for instruction and the mentoring of pre-service and in-service Jewish educators. In this post we will begin our discussion on how Problem-based Learning , an online authentic learning instructional strategy, can be used for Judaic instruction and the mentoring/teaching of pre-service and in-service Jewish educators. 

Assumption: The teacher or mentor teacher has an interactive white board (i.e. SMART Board, Promethean, etc.), a Tablet PC (also called a Slate or Blade), a computer presenter or computer with internet access attached to an LCD projector in the classroom. It would be ideal if students or mentees had access to their own laptop computers or Ipads. Given parental and school approval, and the development of specific guidelines, smartphones can be used to enhance instruction as well.

Note: Although Problem-based Learning can be applied in the Judaic Studies blended learning classroom, it can be also be used for training pre-service and in-service Jewish educators for professional or staff development. It is our hope that Jewish educators around the globe will form an online community of practice, a CoP, a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession, to enhance the delivery of instruction and training of Jewish educators. For example, here is a CoP you might want to join. 

Let’s begin by defining authentic learning and then explore the methodology of Problem-based Learning.

As a review, here is our definition of authentic learning:

Authentic learning: additional explanations

Click on these links to find more elaborate definitions of authentic learning:

Problem-based learning, like the web-quest, is another approach to implementing authentic learning.

What is Problem-based Learning?

According to Wikipedia, Problem Based Learning is defined this way:  f

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject in the context of complex, multifaceted, and realistic problems (not to be confused with project-based learning). The goal of PBL are to help the students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation.[1] Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to resolution of the problem. The role of the instructor (known as the tutor in PBL) is that of facilitator of learning who provides appropriate scaffolding and support of the process, modelling of the process, and monitoring the learning.[2] The tutor must build students confidence to take on the problem, encourage the student, while also stretching their understanding.[3]
PBL was pioneered in the medical school program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in the late 1960's by Howard Barrows and his colleagues.[4] The PBL curriculum was developed in order to stimulate the learners, assist the learners in seeing the relevance of learning to future roles, maintain a higher level of motivation towards learning, and to show the learners the importance of responsible, professional attitudes (Barrows, 1996).

Problem-Based Learning subsequently has been adopted by other medical school programs (Barrows, 1996), adapted for undergraduate instruction (Boud and Feletti, 1997; Duch et al., 2001; Amador et al., 2006) as well as elementary and high school (Barrows, 1996; Gasser, 2011). The use of PBL has expanded from its initial introduction into medical school programs to include education in the areas of other health sciences, math, law, education, economics, business, social studies, and engineering (Barrows 1996; Gasser, 2011). The use of PBL, like other student-centered pedagogies, has been motivated by recognition of the failures of traditional instruction (Wingspread, 1994; Boyer, 1998) and the emergence of deeper understandings of how people learn (National Research Council, 2000). Unlike traditional instruction, PBL actively engages the student in constructing knowledge. PBL includes problems that can be solved in many different ways and have more than one solution. [5] A good problem is authentic, meets students level of prior knowledge, engages students in discussion, and is interesting.[2]

The Six core characteristics of problem based learning: [6]
-learning occurs in small groups
-teachers act as facilitators or guides (referred to as tutors)
-a problem forms the basis for organized focus and stimulus for learning
-problems stimulate the development and use of problem solving skills
-new knowledge is obtained through means of self-directed learning

In PBL, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their group and organize and direct the learning process with support from a tutor or instructor. Advocates of PBL claim it can be used to enhance content knowledge while simultaneously fostering the development of communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and self-directed learning skills.[7][3]
PBL may position students in a simulated real world working and professional context which involves policy, process, and ethical problems that will need to be understood and resolved to some outcome. By working through a combination of learning strategies to discover the nature of a problem, understanding the constraints and options to its resolution, defining the input variables, and understanding the viewpoints involved, students learn to negotiate the complex sociological nature of the problem and how competing resolutions may inform decision-making.

Schmidt (1983) describes the process of Problem-based learning as being seven steps:
- clarifying and agreeing on terms and concepts that are unclear
- define the problem and review terms which need more depth or explanation
- analyze, brainstorm and create potential hypothesis
- discuss, evaluate and organize possible explanations into potential hypothesis
- generate and prioritize learning objectives, divide research workload
- private study time to research objectives
- during next tutorial report back gained information, create an explanation and synthesize new information in relation to the problem

In the next post we will explore Problem-based Jewish Learning.

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