EDlab Teach-Meet on creating PBL problems
MAASTRICHT. “You're a rebel. You argue against innovation, but we can't just leave everything as it was in education. It is all about holding on to what is good and getting rid of the ‘trendy stuff’, as you call it.”
We are listening to Michael Capalbo, assistant professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. He responds to what philosopher René Gabriëls said during the Edlab Teach-Meet last week; at these meetings, employees from all corners of the university share their vision about an educational topic. This time, the topic was ‘creating a good PBL problem’.
Unlike Capalbo and a few of the other speakers, Gabriëls did not present a list of tips and tricks, but put a problem to the audience: “I’m interested in the paradox of innovation. I base myself on my own personal experience at University College and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. They are different, but one thing is the same: rankings are very important. At FASoS, this leads to the situation that, although FASoS studies are the best in the rankings, we still have to innovate.” He feels that this is highly undesirable. “I have to adapt my course by order of colleagues who don't know its content. When I ask why I have to change, they don't have an answer. This urge to innovate leads to more pressure on staff and an increase in the number of burnouts. The best innovation is to stop all innovation.” He ended with an appeal for “regression,” or the return to the link between research and education. “Maybe not in the first year, but in the second or third year of the bachelor's. We should discuss this. Or, as architect Henk van der Velden once said: there is a difference between novelties - what is trendy or in vogue - and innovation. At the moment, a sexy trend is talking about innovation.” The laughter in the audience didn't disconcert Gabriëls: “You are all laughing now, because you have already been infected!”
“You can't keep everything as it is,” Capalbo replied. “But how can you hold on to the good things and discard the trendy stuff?” Gabriëls: “Have faith in the committed lecturers, they can do that themselves. At the moment, there is more and more control.”
Those who came for best practices in the field of problem design, learned more from the contributions by other speakers (even if it was a lot to ask from a PhD student at the Faculty of Law, just one month in Maastricht). Many said that testing a problem is of crucial importance. Checking to see if it works in the tutorial group and adapting if necessary. Also, make the problem as heterogeneous as possible: it shouldn't be crystal clear at first glance, students need to work out what it is about and what the solution could be. In short: challenge the group. “It should contain cues for students to expand their knowledge,” Capalbo added, “and they should be realistic and authentic and contain something interesting, something exciting, for example unexpected”.
Capalbo emphasised that problem design was of crucial importance to PBL. “They can make the most expensive part of PBL, the PBL session, fail or work. No good problem means no good pre-discussion, means no activation of prior knowledge, no relation to real life, no scaffolding. No good problem design means no good learning goals, no good learning goals means no focussed reading, but just rote learning. No good learning goals means less elaboration during post-discussion.”