My research focus centers on problem-based learning, especially in regards to its effect on student motivation and engagement, particularly in connection to reluctant learners. Interestingly, in many articles, “problem-based learning” tends to be interchangeable with “project-based learning,” with both being shortened to PBL and further complicating distinction. This has led me to consider the need to define the two and distinguish their differences. There are certainly strong similarities, and most project-based learning tasks can fall under the umbrella of problem-based learning. However, problem-based learning is unique in that students play an active role in setting goals and learning outcomes, which is paramount in a discussion of engagement and agency. It is further worthwhile to note that many problem-based learning studies have been conducted in the medical sciences, in contexts ranging from nursing to midwifery. I am considering what aspects of higher education lend themselves to this particular approach and how that compares to a secondary classroom.
Most of the information I have found has been in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles published by scientific organizations and, as such, have a research focus. A few specifically center on the instructional sciences, and those corresponding studies discuss potential applications resulting from quantitative research. I feel the suggested implementation approaches gleaned from these articles will be beneficial in developing a means to analyze the qualitative findings of my own research question.
A most informative article from the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching (Davidson & Major, 2014) links problem-based learning to course satisfaction. This is one of the few publications that has considered student interest and a student-centered metric in describing the teaching approach. The majority of articles in this area focus on acquisition of critical thinking skills, inquiry-based protocols, and ability to differentiate for high achievers. This article is certainly research focused in that it aims to distinguish between different types of group-learning and examine research that supports the efficacy of various approaches; however, the article does this in an effort to aid its reader’s ability to distinguish between viable methods of enhancing student involvement and connected goals.
A second article of interest was published by BMC Medical Education and is also heavily research focused. Khoiriyah et al (2015) observe that student engagement can be negatively impacted by problem-based learning unless students are more directly guided through other means, such as self-assessment. The purpose of the study was to develop a valid assessment tool for PBL-learners to utilize within a tutorial setting. This led me to consider the benefit of having students describe their engagement and interest in the PBL-setting and then triangulating that data with educator and researcher observations to form a more valid understanding of the learning impact.
Finally, I was fascinated with a publication from Instructional Science that specifically discusses the importance of student-selected materials and its impact on motivation in problem-based learning. Although steeped in research, the article certainly aims to provide practitioners with evidence for a need for voice-and-choice within PBL-classrooms. I initially felt this was an interesting focus, since PBL is already student-centered. Wijnia et al (2014) found that both autonomous motivation and perceived competence were improved when students were given agency to select their own literature and that there was no loss in conceptual understanding when compared to the use of instructor-selected materials. This reminded me that, in exploring problem-based learning in connection to student motivation, it would be necessary to isolate variables within the environment to truly determine effective practice. In this instance, was it the problem-based learning approach itself, or merely student-choice, that motivated students in the course? The use of culturally-responsive texts in the classroom has been seen to increase motivation; is it because of the personal connection or the problem-based approach to overarching social issues?
Davidson, N., & Major, C. H. (2014). Boundary crossings: Cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and problem-based learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 7-55.
Khoiriyah, U., Roberts, C., Jorm, C., & C. P. M. Van der Vleuten. (2015, August 26). Enhancing students’ learning in problem based learning: validation of a self-assessment scale for active learning and critical thinking. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from https://bmcmededuc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12909-015-0422-2
Wijnia, L., Loyens, S. M., Derous, E., & Schmidt, H. G. (2014). How important are student-selected versus instructor-selected literature resources for students’ learning and motivation in problem-based learning? Instructional Science, 43(1), 39-58.