The Application of Behaviorism

Thorndike’s connectionism theory posits that “the most fundamental type of learning involves the forming of associations between sensory experiences and neural impulses” (Schunk, 2016, p. 74).  The process of trial and error allows students to select and then connect their learning through a gradual and ongoing process.  Thorndike observed animal behavior, which mimicked a seemingly drill-and-kill, automatic response through repetition, but he recognized that human learning added a layer of complexity that allowed for analysis and reasoning beyond the initial connections.  His Law of Effect focused on the consequences of behavior; subjects learn in connection to positive consequences, while negative consequences decrease a certain behavior. It is worth noting that, based on research, he later revised this Law of Effect to de-emphasize the influence of negative consequences.  The Law of Readiness asserted that students are motivated to learn if at the appropriate developmental level but that “when students do not possess prerequisite skills, then attempting to learn is punishing and a waste of time” (Schunk, 2016, p. 76).  Further, teachers should instruct students in a manner that provides both context and application in order to increase proficiency in order to facilitate the transfer of cognitive skills (Schunk, 2016, p.76).

Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory was similar to Thorndike’s in that it resulted from experiments with habitual associations, or repetitive conditioning.  He found that responses to stimuli can elicit emotional and behavioral reactions.  In humans, there is a level of awareness to conditioning, allowing it to be used as a desensitization, or counter-conditioning, technique.  For example, emotional conditioning could be applied to anxious test takers or young students encountering new environments.  Schunk (2016) explains that activities can represent “informal desensitization procedure” in that “pairing fun activities with cues associated with school may cause the latter to become less anxiety producing” (p. 83).

In the scenario with Mrs. Stevenson, the students who are constantly talking and disrupting class might benefit from the application of Thorndike’s theory.  Thorndike calls for educators to set explicit expectations and help students to form good habits.  The revised Law of Effect implies that teachers should use positive consequences to help reinforce these habits. A norm setting procedure that outlines appropriate behavior and expectations during parts of a lesson would communicate to the students not only the desired behaviors but also provide a context in which the students can connect and understand.  This might be a multi-faceted approach that details these behaviors during whole-group work, partner work, group work, and individual work because the expectations might vary and because the students need to clearly see and distinguish between the activities.  Allowing the students to participate in the setting of norms provides a sense of agency over their own development.  Macallister (2014) posits that this agentic view is in contrast to behaviorist theory, but the personal connection seemingly enhances the meaning and context of procedure in the same manner that Schunk (2016) calls for map skills to be applied in a real-world setting (p. 76).  Further, Mrs. Stevenson should ensure that the disruptive students possess the knowledge and skills required to fully engage with the work so that their disruption is not a manifestation of developmental frustration.  Incorporating formative bell ringers as both a classroom habit and a means to assess readiness would encapsulate the holistic spirit of Thorndike’s studies.

Macallister, J. (2014). Why discipline needs to be reclaimed as an educational concept. Educational Studies, 40(4), 438-451.

Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access(7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

PBL – Qualitative Article Critique

Summary

Spruijt et al’s 2013 paper, Teachers’ Perceptions of Aspects Affecting Seminar Learning, is a qualitative study that investigated ways to optimize problem-based learning (PBL) approaches with seminar classes, defined as learning groups of approximately 25 students.  They note that this type of class is gaining popularity at the university level due to budget constraints, especially within medical schools that tend to espouse social constructivist viewpoints.  However, PBL has previously been delivered in tutorial settings with smaller numbers of students, and there is not much data that explores ways to maximize student engagement and learning with larger groups.

The study participants included twenty-four teachers with prior experience as seminar facilitators from Utrecht University in the Netherlands.  The participants were invited out of a total pool of 174 eligible faculty members, were offered a small stipend for participation, and were assigned to individual focus groups based upon personal scheduling preferences.  They participated in semi-structured focus group interviews, in which three focus groups met twice with an interval of two weeks led by one moderator.  Each session lasted approximately 90 minutes. The sessions were audio-taped, fully transcribed, and then independently coded by two researchers using thematic analysis.  An iterative process of data reduction resulted in an understanding of the aspects that influence seminar learning.  The sessions themselves used predefined open questions formulated from prior active learning research, were new to the participants, and allowed the moderator to ask additional follow-up questions for clarification.  At the end of each session, the moderator summarized key points and had the participants verify for understanding.  One week after the session, participants were provided with a summary and request for corrections and comments, which further validated the data.

To analyze the data, Spruijt listened to the recordings, read the transcripts, and composed a descriptive summary.  She then discussed her findings with the session moderator to ensure consensus.  Then, the data was entered into a software program that used a latent thematic analytical method to report themes, or the key contributors to seminar learning reported by the teachers.  Since this process included interpretative data, a second researcher independently coded a portion of the transcripts and ran this through the software to ensure validity.  The teachers described the PBL as successful, with aspects positively affecting seminar learning identified by the teachers falling into seven categories: teacher, students, preparation, group functioning, seminar goals and content, course coherence, and schedule and facilities.  Importantly, teachers measured their ownership in curriculum development, the quality and quantity of preparation materials, the classroom climate, group continuity, student predisposition to seminar learning, the number of course questions, and alignment of course activities.

Critical Analysis

The use of a qualitative focus group study to explore the research question of how educators viewed the seminar approach and its impact on students was ideal, as it allowed for group interaction that provided robust data and a wide-variety of responses related to the previously unexamined topic.  White (1995) endorses such an approach by explaining that this type of method can “give rise to a synergy that is lacking from individual interviews” and ensure validity of experiences.

However, the number of educators who participated in the study compared to those who were invited was quite low.  There is a chance that the respondents were more highly motivated and that this influenced the success of their personal seminar approach.  Further, since all of the focus group participants were from one university and one general field within the university, further research would need to be conducted to ensure the generalizability of the findings.  Spruijt et al (2013) mention that it would have also been helpful to independently interview the participants outside of the group setting to enrich the data further.

An interesting finding from the study suggested that interpersonal group relationships did not affect engagement in the course and that most success came from interaction with the teacher and materials.  Theoretically, problem-based learning is often thought of as relying heavily on small group dynamics to construct knowledge and explore issues, so this finding is somewhat counterintuitive. The study’s use of anecdotal teacher feedback as its independent variable may not have captured students’ perspective on the importance of group dynamics in learning. Therefore, further research examining both student and teacher feedback on learning could be useful.

The study found that PBL can be successfully implemented in the seminar-sized classrooms that are common in US universities and high schools.  Educators so inclined should move forward with this instructional strategy, placing an emphasis on quality content, cohesive curriculum design, and strong teacher-student interactions.  In active learning approaches, emphasis is often placed on interpersonal, student-to-student group dynamics, but this study suggests that teachers must still be considered an integral part of the learning process even in PBL settings that might involve a significant amount of small group work.

References

Spruijt, A., Wolfhagen, I., Bok, H., Schuurmans, E., Scherpbier, A., Beukelen, P. V., & Jaarsma, D. (2013). Teachers’ perceptions of aspects affecting seminar learning: a qualitative study. BMC Medical Education, 13(1).

White GE, Thomson AN: Anonymized focus groups as a research tool for health professionals. Qual Health Res 1995, 5(2):256–261.

PBL – Qualitative Research Design

My research question is “How do teachers describe evidence of student motivation in classrooms where problem-based learning is implemented?”  This is best addressed using a qualitative research design, which would serve as a basis for “understanding current practices” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 445).  A phenomenological case study would allow for in-depth observation of student engagement in this particular active-learning setting, as well as awareness of any changes over time. The basis for a phenomenological perspective lies in the educator’s description of motivation, which is a measure of the educator’s lived experiences within the classroom.  However, it would warrant examination from a constructivist viewpoint, as well, for student motivation is a result of how the students might have “constructed reality” within the problem-based learning environment, and the consequences of those constructions directly impact “their behaviors…and interact[ions]” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 351).

It would be best to utilize a small sample size in order to allow more in-depth reflection and analysis of the evidence, but the teachers should encompass a wide range of experience.  It would not be uncommon for students to appear more engaged in a veteran teacher’s class if the educator was more comfortable with the active learning environment; varying the participants would adapt for these differences in teaching efficacy and allow the focus to remain on the phenomena of interest, the focus in this case being motivation in relation to problem-based learning as an instructional approach.  Each participating educator should be identified within a secondary-level classroom to ensure the generalizability of results in relation to student developmental level and expectations.  Purposeful sampling would allow researchers to “rely on their judgment” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 353) to select participants that meet these considerations.

Since educators are describing their own observations within the classroom, the data will reflect an interpretivist view, and the research design will need to include procedures that support and validate the findings in light of such subjective anecdotes.  The best method to obtain teacher descriptions would be through interviews with the educators.  However, to assure the validity of interpretations and assumptions, the researchers should observe the classroom that is being described as “participant observers” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 354), which would allow for stronger evaluation and explanation of results.  This would ensure representation of both “emic and etic perspectives” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 345).  Data could be further triangulated by examining student work samples that would reflect engagement with the material.  This would crystallize the findings, as it “use[s] multiple methods to collect data about the same phenomenon in order to confirm research findings or to resolve discrepant findings” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 354).

In analyzing the data, research interpretation should be based on grounded theory principles, which in this case could be instructional theory related to active learning.  The researcher could then reflect on educator conversations and description to develop major themes resulting from the analysis.  In a study that included multiple educators, this would ensure that individual bias was minimized.

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2015).  Applying educational research: How to read, do, and use research to solve problems of practice (7th ed).  Boston, MA: Prentice Hall, Inc.

PBL – Quantitative Article Critique

Summary

Nguyen et al’s 2016 paper, Measuring Student Response to Instructional Practices (StRIP) in Traditional and Active Classrooms, measured and compared student response to problem-based learning in an active classroom and student response to teacher-centered instruction in a traditional classroom.  They note a meta-analysis of 225 studies that found that active learning strategies increased learning and decreased failure rates across all disciplines (Freeman et al, 2014).  However, many engineering instructors were hesitant to adopt active learning for fear of student resistance, and Nguyen et al wanted to confirm if this was an accurate perspective and why that seemed to differ from other research results.  Specifically, they wanted to conduct a study that documented student resistance to the instructional strategy.

The study participants, predominantly male, came from three undergraduate engineering courses at a large public institution in the Southwest.  One hundred and fifty-one students enrolled in an engineering course, and the students had no knowledge of their section’s instructional approach during enrollment.  Sixty-seven students were enrolled in a mechanical engineering course, which served as the traditional classroom.  A second mechanical engineering course of fifty-three students utilized problem-based learning and served as the first active learning class.  The third course, consisting of thirty-one electrical engineers, utilized collaborative problem-based learning and was the second active learning class.  Researchers chose to focus on multiple classes from a single institution in order to minimize variation effects resulting from a change in setting.  The experimental design allowed researchers to focus on two aspects of response: the impact of classroom strategies on student response, as well as the ability for the survey instrument, detailed below, to reflect the differences seen in each classroom.

The undergraduate engineering students who participated in the study were given a research-designed survey: the Student Response to Instructional Practices (StRIP) Survey.  The questions on the survey differentiated between the two active learning courses to ensure accuracy of responses and provide data for analysis between the group and individual approaches to problem-based learning.  The StRIP Survey allowed for the collection of empirical data focused specifically on student response to problem-based learning.  Questions relating to the traditional instructional practices were also included in order to allow for further analysis of their effect on student response.  This StRIP Survey went through six development phases, including item generation, validity testing, and piloting of the protocol.  Despite having multiple sections, students completed the survey in approximately fifteen minutes.  The survey focused on student response to in-class activities, student perception of the instructor, student satisfaction with the course, and student prior experience with problem-based learning.

Since much of the survey contained Likert-data, researchers used a non-parametric test to analyze the responses.  To determine if there were any statistically significant differences in student responses from the three courses, the researchers conducted a Kruskal-Wallace Test.  Post-hoc Nemenyi testing with a Tukey distribution was utilized to compare statistics for each individual survey item and determine statistical differences between the three courses.  Results suggest that students responded positively to problem-based learning and did not exhibit signs of resistance.  However, it is also worth noting that students responded positively to all three instructional environments and that the survey, while able to differentiate between individual and group problem-based learning classrooms, was not able to strongly differentiate between the traditional course and the other two courses.

Critical Analysis

There were limitations to the research because of the small sample size and its specific focus on engineering courses.  For example, engineering is a discipline that often benefits from hands-on and collaborative work, which could have created inherent motivation for students to engage in active learning.

The traditional course did not register on the post-hoc tests to have more significant instructor involvement than the other courses, suggesting that instructor involvement was still a core component across all classes.  However, follow-up discussion with the traditional course instructor suggested that he was more engaging than standard lecturers, perhaps skewing the results.  Further research would need to be conducted to accurately compare a traditional course with an active learning classroom based upon educator experience.

Further, the present StRIP Survey does not distinguish between different modalities of student response to learning.  The researchers have considered delineating between four motivation-related characteristics: participation, value, emotion, and evaluation.  This would allow for a more holistic understanding of the effects on student engagement in relation to instructional practice and strategies.

This study would have benefitted from regression-modeling, which would have allowed researchers to examine factors influencing student response to survey questions.  For example, student preparation for learning might have easily impacted their readiness to engage in problem-based activities.  In addition, the problem-based classrooms had fewer students than the traditional classroom, with the collaborative problem-based class being less than half the size of the traditional classroom.  While it would not be surprising for a smaller class to reflect strong student engagement, Nguyen et al did not find major differences in student engagement across the three classrooms.  Even if problem-based learning were found to offer significant benefits over traditional classrooms, the size of these benefits would need to be measured against any increase in cost per student.

Despite the need for further study, this research successfully implies that student resistance to problem-based learning is not a significant obstacle, even in engineering, a field in which some instructors expressed concern that this would be an issue.  Paired with the research that this type of learning decreases student failure rates, educators should highly consider the incorporation of active learning techniques within their courses and should not worry that student resistance will present an obstacle.

References

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,111(23), 8410-8415.

Nguyen, K., Borrego, M., Finelli, C., Shekhar, P., Demonbrun, R., Henderson, C., Waters, C.(2016). Measuring Student Response to Instructional Practices (StRIP) in Traditional and Active Classrooms. 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings. doi:10.18260/p.25696

 

 

PBL – (Topical Reference List)

This paper includes a reference list of literature relating to problem-based learning.  In general, the literature seems to indicate that problem-based learning has several positive effects in the classroom, including on the development of critical thinking and inquiry skills.  Further research needs to be conducted surrounding the use of problem-based learning with reluctant learners and its effects on student motivation and efficacy.

Keywords: problem-based learning, project-based learning, student efficacy

Educators are tasked with meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners each day.  These students need to develop 21st-century skills that prepare them for the workplace, including the ability to think critically, solve problems, practice cooperation, and utilize structured-approaches to meet their end-goal.  This calls for educators to break free from traditional models of learning and find ways to relate class activities to real-world, authentic experiences. However, the complexity of this application often causes students to become demotivated or frustrated when working through challenging issues.

The purpose of this qualitative study will be to determine how the implementation of problem-based learning (PBL) impacts the motivation of reluctant learners in the secondary classroom.  The significance of this study is that it may influence instructional approaches in classes where students struggle to retain concepts or to engage with the learning material.  Most PBL studies have focused on the implementation of the approach with high-achieving students, but there is room to explore its effects on other demographics.  This study will involve purposeful sampling of educator narratives pertaining to student interaction and behavior during PBL-designed lessons, as well as the description of student outcomes as compared to traditionally-designed instruction.  The measurements could include anecdotal evidence of discussion-based participation, the exhibition of problem-solving skills, and the demonstration of critical thinking.  Data could then be triangulated to confirm findings via interviews with the educators, observations of classroom lessons by the researcher, and analyses of student work samples.  Research shall be designed around this question:  How do teachers describe evidence of student motivation in classrooms in which problem-based learning is implemented versus traditional classroom settings?

References

Achilles, C. M., & Hoover, S. P. (1996, November). Exploring problem-based learning (PBL) in grades 6-12. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association, Tuscaloosa, AL Abstract retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/ fulltext/ED406406.pdf

Achilles and Hoover find that PBL should improve education by promoting active and group learning, integrating curriculum, and allowing for learning accommodations.  The study reviewed four schools (three middle schools, and one high school) after training approximately one-third of the faculty at each location.

Teacher qualitative measurements suggested positive outcomes from PBL; spring testing results provided quantitative data.  Results indicated that shorter PBLs were more effective than longer, complex assignments.  Each location experienced difficulty with study group readiness, implying that future implementations might necessitate pre-training regarding group expectations.  PBL was most effective during longer classes; shorter periods required increased creativity and evaluation on the part of the instructor.

Bradley-Levine, J. (2014). Literature review on project-based learning. Retrieved from http://cell.uindy.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/PBL-Lit-Review_Jan14.2014.pdf

Bradley-Levine explores project-based learning as an effective means to obtain student-driven inquiry in the classroom.  She focuses on both student and teacher engagement and process when encountering real-world situations in the classroom, especially those related to technology.  This includes measurement of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

The study showed a positive effect for PBL on higher-order thinking, particularly in students with below-average verbal abilities or lacking in previous content knowledge.  Eighth-grade students were divided into three groups.  The first received traditional classroom instruction, include lecture-based acquisition of information – this served as the control.  The second group used technology within instruction – an experimental approach.  The third group learned through PBL and also had access to technology.  Students were then tested in both conceptual and content knowledge, with students from the PBL group showing significant gains in comprehension.

Blumenfeld, P. C. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist.  Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/30505177/ motivating_project_based_learning_sustaining_the_doing_supporting_the_learner.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1463341128&Signature=ZWnOnbJNN5b0R5FwSf3xvpreUSY=&response-content-disposition=inline; filename=Motivating_project-based_learning_Sustai.pdf

Blumenfeld makes an argument for a positive effect on engagement for project-based learning, examines effective project design, and analyzes problems that are likely to be encountered during implementation, including proactive supports that can be implemented in order to avoid these issues.  Blumenfeld focuses on technology’s motivating factors for both teachers and students.

However, the research recognizes that there are many aspects of technology and PBL that still need to be examined.  This includes consideration of pre-implementation support, potential negative effects of heavy technology-reliance, and the effective differentiation of learning in a group-based environment.  The study stresses that technology is a positive motivator in cases of PBL but does not supplant the role of the teacher.

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.

This article aimed to distinguish between different types of group learning by examining research supporting the efficacy of various approaches.  It did so in order to aid its reader’s ability to distinguish between viable methods of enhancing student involvement and connected goals.  Davidson and Major considered student interest and a student-centered metric in describing the teaching approach.

Edelson, D. C. (2016). Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. Journal of the Learning Sciences.  Retrieved from https://web.stanford.edu/~roypea/RoyPDF%20folder/A101_Edelson_etal_99_MS.pdf

Edelson recognizes the benefits of project-based learning and undertakes an exploration of the challenges faced when implementing this type of instruction.  He outlines five challenges related to technology and the geosciences and then presents possible strategies or solutions in addressing the issues.  The analysis itself is very extensive and considers a longitudinal study that encompasses four iterations of both software and curriculum pertaining to global warming and the greenhouse effect.

Ultimately, the study provided a means to improve the classroom design related to PBL and, in this case, the accompanying technology component.  The researchers recognize, however, that the teacher is an important factor in successful project-based implementation, and Edelson calls for further research to determine effective educator support.  This requires a broadening of the research design in terms of scope, for this initial study focused primarily on the learner.  Furthermore, the design of this study was quite adaptive, and a follow-up study with a more formal design would prove beneficial to an evaluation of a teacher-centered approach.  Continued analysis will need to look also at variations in technology availability across a wide-range of classrooms.

Ferreira, M. M., & Trudel, A. R. (2012). The impact of problem-based learning (PBL) on student attitudes toward science, problem-solving skills, and sense of community in the classroom. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 47(1), 23-30.

Through a mixed-method approach, Ferreira & Trudel examined the impact of problem-based learning on student attitudes toward science, as well as on student perceptions of the learning environment and the resulting impact on problem-solving skills.  The study included forty-eight high school chemistry students, who completed journal entries and answered survey questionnaires.  Researchers examined the students’ approach to problem-solving, and the teacher observed and reflected on students in class.  Results indicated a significant increase in student attitudes toward all three elements.  Further, PBL seemed to develop a stronger sense of classroom community.

Gultekin, M. (2004). The effect of project based learning on learning outcomes in the 5th grade social studies course in primary education. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/1456133/The_Effect_of_Project_Based_Learning_on_Learning_Outcomes_in_the_5th_Grade_Social_Studies_Course_in_Primary_Education

Gultekin approaches project-based learning as part of the constructivist theory of education being embraced by the Turkish school system.  The study utilized both quantitative and qualitative measurements in examining fifth-grade social studies students.  Pre- and post-tests were given to students as a control, and a semi-formal interview was administered.  Results indicated that not only did project-based learning lead to academic success, teachers and students alike found the process engaging and meaningful.

Even with this success, there were issues within the findings.  Often, group members would have issues with agreement, in some cases even engaging in active arguments related to the design process.  In other cases, groups had issues carrying out the assignments and lacked the support that is often more readily apparent in a traditional model of structured curriculum.  This suggests that, while project-based learning clearly has benefits and should be recommended for use in the classroom, there does need to be increased emphasis on project stages and other types of implementation supports put into place.

Hertzog, N. (1994, April). Impediments to a project-based and integrated curriculum: a qualitative study of curriculum reform. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.  Abstract retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED369185.pdf

Hertzog focused on negative experiences and challenges related to project-based curriculum implementations.  Her study focused on students within a private secular school and only examined those whose cognitive-levels were at or above grade-level.  Data was collected through classroom observation, discussion at administrative meetings, and personal interviews.  The study found that expectations of ‘engagement’ varied greatly between administrators and parents and that parents viewed differentiation of the curriculum as a means of providing an unequal and less-challenging experience.  Parents also were hesitant for students to focus on integrated learning experiences, preferring the more traditional approach of delineated subjects.

Hertzog addresses these competing perceptions, and she concludes that time-structured classes do not allow for fully effective project development.  It would be interesting to further consider Hertzog’s analysis in comparison to a school that lacked rigorous compartmentalization of subjects and daily organization.  Since parents were concerned with the effect of differentiated project-based learning on traditional assessment methods, a future study could quantify testing data of this group of students to determine correlative support in addressing the issue.

Hung, W. (2013). Problem-based learning: A learning environment for enhancing learning transfer.  New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, (137), 27-38.

This article provides a conceptual framework for problem-based learning, especially in the context of using the approach with adult learners.  Hung outlines instructional design guidelines to enhance learning transfer through the use of PBL, building upon Thorndike’s findings from the early 1900s.

Khan, B. H. (2006).  Flexible learning in an information society.  Hershey PA: Information Science Pub.

Khan explores the best ways to create a flexible learning environment for students.  He develops eight factors which systematically lead to successful implementation of meaningful classrooms.  This includes authenticity and collaboration in both traditional and online courses.  Project-based learning proves most successful when cultural and other individual differences are minimized, and communication maximized among the group.

As a qualitative measure of observation, Khan explores the attitudes of online students through a program satisfaction survey.  Although this certainly provides feedback on the eight dimensions of the learning framework that has been developed, it provides no control to compare this framework to a more traditional approach.  The collected data seems purely subjective, and relies heavily on student bias from the sample participants.  It might be beneficial to compare the study results with quantitative measures such as grades for the respondents, or utilize a control by surveying students who participated in an individualized environment.

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

This article is heavily research-focused.  Khoiriyah et al 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.

Ömer Delialioglu. (2012). Student engagement in blended learning environments with lecture-based and problem-based instructional approaches. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 15(3), 310-321 .  Retrieved from http://www.ifets.info/journals/15_3/24.pdf

This article examined the effect on student engagement when technology was blended with various learning approaches.  The study used a computer networks course, designed so that the first eight-weeks were presented in lecture format, and the following eight-weeks were problem-based.  Researchers aimed to determine if there were significant differences in student engagement between the two methods.  The researchers studied 89 students and used “repeated measure ANOVA analysis” to determine that Active Learning and Total Time on Task indicators were significantly higher in the part of the course that followed the problem-based learning design, although course satisfaction did not differ overall.  To ensure that the results were valid, researchers used a regression analysis which confirmed that the differences in engagement resulted from the PBL environment and not from learner differences.

Simons, K. D. (2016). Scaffolding disciplined inquiry in problem-based environments.Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/ download?doi=10.1.1.458.5661&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Simons focuses on scaffolding strategies as a means to overcome challenges presented by project-based learning.  She purports that this type of support provides a three-fold approach: creating an inquiry-based environment, addressing misconceptions, and encouraging reflection.  Simons provides detailed examples for future researchers, curriculum design teams, and classroom instructors.

Throughout the study, Simons is quick to discuss drawbacks to the scaffolding system, admitting that the system is far from perfect but still beneficial.  Scaffolding is intended for instruction-based needs and falls short in addressing issues of student effort or initiative.  Furthermore, educators must be knowledgeable in a scaffolded approach and quick to observe and gauge student needs.  Finally, students must have buy-in with the approach to prevent the misconception that this extra help is really extra work.  In an effort to interact with students to better the approach, perhaps qualitative data could be collected to view student perception of needed interventions.  It is imperative that educators do not over-support student efforts, for that would defeat the open-ended purpose of project-based learning.

Thomas, J. W., Ph.D. (2000, March).  A review of research on project-based learning.  Retrieved from http://www.newtechnetwork.org. 590elmp01.blackmesh.com/sites/default/files/dr/pblresearch2.pdf

Thomas provides a comprehensive overview of project-based learning, including an analysis of previous research studies addressing this cutting-edge curriculum practice.  He looks at effectiveness of the approach, the role of students in PBL classrooms, and challenges faced during implementations.  Finally, Thomas outlines a means for improving effectiveness of PBL.

Thomas explores PBL within three different contexts: within a school, across a district, and in relation to the community.  He examines factors which influence its spread and viability.  However, there is currently no control for what project-based learning truly looks like and what it must accomplish to be considered a success.  To achieve an exhaustive analysis, one would need to consider these varying contexts by implementing a consistent environment across each.  There also needs to be a quantitative analysis that links project-based learning to standardized test scores, the leading instrument in the traditional-instruction argument.  A systematic, longitudinal study would lead to the rise of PBL as a viable means of student success.

Tiantong, M. (2013, April). The online project-based learning model based on student’s multiple intelligence. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.  Retrieved from http://www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_3_No_7_April_2013/23.pdf

Tiantong builds upon traditional research regarding project-based learning to develop a learning model that bases PBL instruction on a student’s Multiple Intelligence.  The study focuses on discussion group observations from ten experts, who were presented the five aspects of the design model.  These experts evaluated the model as a successful means to engage students in learning.

Regardless, the model needs to be further studied through implementation involving actual students, not merely a hypothetical situation. Tiantong focuses on PBL as it relates to online learning, so perhaps students experiencing this type of instruction can be administered a similar test to students not following the Multiple Intelligence model, and assessment data can provide a quantitative measurement for further investigation.

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.

This article 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.  Wijnia et al 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.

Summary

The literature strongly suggests that problem-based learning environments positively impact student learning.  Students appear more engaged in collaborative, student-centered classrooms when compared to traditional lecture designs.  However, even student-centered classrooms may require strong teacher support and an emphasis on providing the structure that some students may need to guide their problem-based explorations.  Gains have been found across all levels of learning, from elementary schools all the way to adult learners.

PBL – Qualitative Study (Source Inspo)

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.

PBL – Qualitative Study (Purpose)

Educators are tasked with meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners each day.  These students need to develop 21st-century skills that prepare them for the workplace, such as the ability to think critically and problem solve, practice cooperation, and utilize structured-approaches to meet their end-goal.  This calls for educators to break free from traditional models of learning, and find ways to relate class activities to real-world, authentic experiences.  However, this application is sometimes “complex, multi-faceted, or confusing” (Kilbane, 2014, p. 278), which often causes students to become demotivated or frustrated when working through challenging issues.

The purpose of this qualitative study will be to determine how the implementation of problem-based learning (PBL) impacts the motivation of reluctant learners in the secondary classroom.  The significance of this study is that it may influence instructional approach in classes where students struggle to retain concepts or to engage with the learning material.  Most problem-based learning studies have focused on implementation of the approach with high-achieving students, but there is room to explore its effects on other demographics.  This study will involve purposeful sampling of educator narratives pertaining to student interaction and behavior during PBL-designed lessons, as well as description of student outcomes as compared to traditionally-designed instruction.  Measurements can include anecdotal evidence of discussion-based participation, exhibition of problem-solving skills, and demonstration of critical thinking.  Data can be triangulated to confirm findings by considering interviews with the educators, observation of classroom lessons by the researcher, and analysis of student work samples.

Research Question:  How do teachers describe evidence of student motivation in classrooms where problem-based learning is implemented versus a traditional classroom setting?

This study will be rooted in the constructivist theoretical perspective, which explores the educator’s reported “perceptions, ‘truths,’ explanations, beliefs, and worldview” (Gall et al, 2015, p. 351).  In this framework, students construct their knowledge from their experiences, so an approach that gives students more agency in their education experiences could both make these experiences more robust and more engaging for the student who is driving them. Constructivism considers three major principles: student readiness, spiral organization of instruction, and student ability to extrapolate or go beyond the information given.  Problem-based learning lends itself to a constructivist approach because of the holistic nature of problem-based learning, which supports factual, procedural, conceptual, and metacognitive knowledge.  Educators are able to observe the student as they engage with a problem and learn throughout the process.  Therefore, it is fitting to examine educator perception of student engagement since “we cannot talk about what is learned separately from how it is learned” (Wilson, 1998).

I am interested in problem-based learning as a potential means to create relevancy in the classroom.  There is no longer a need to supply students with rote facts because of the prevalence of technology, so engaging students in ways they find meaningful to their lives is important in establishing an active-learning environment.  Students, especially reluctant learners, might refuse to engage with material that they are unable to directly link to a topic of interest, or they may become frustrated if they cannot easily connect a task with its purpose.  If problem-based learning enhances engagement and motivates students to tackle challenges, it could potentially call for classrooms to be restructured in this student-centric approach or validate educators who are focusing on higher-level, long-term tasks.  My current students are engaging in a year-long project in which they tackle the question of “What is one problem in the world you would fix/change?” Although rooted in activities that support essential skills and power-standards, the project is incorporated into the curriculum as an activity that will eventually be presented to the students as an opportunity to use the skills that they have acquired. The central focus remains the acquisition of abstract skills that will eventually be put to use. A true problem-based learning approach would directly incorporate the project into the acquisition of these skills and thus shift the central focus to completing the project. It would be interesting to see how this shift would affect student motivations for skill acquisition.

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2015).  Applying educational research: How to read, do, and use research to solve problems of practice (7th ed).  Boston, MA: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Kilbane, C. R., & Milman, N. B. (2014). Teaching models: Designing instruction for 21st century learners. Boston: Pearson.

Wilson, B. G. (1998). Constructivist learning environments: case studies in instructional design. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Educational Technology Publications.