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Published by: Centro Studi Villa Montesca on Nov 26, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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PROBLEM BASED LEARNING:An Instructional Model Based On Constructivist Learning
nhancing the
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cience studies134246-LLP-1-2007-IT-1-COMENIUS-CMPGrant Agreement 2007-3434/001-001This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any usewhich may be made of the information contained therein.
(Prof.ssa Floriana Falcinelli, SSIS, Università degli Studi di Perugia)Graduate School of Specialization in Secondary Education, University of Perugia
In the Problem Based Learning process the student acquires knowledge by allowing a givenproblem to act as a stimulus. In this way, the student is driven to discover the informationhe or she needs to understand and face the very problem itself. This approach embracesthe idea that learning is a process in which the student takes an active role in building his orher own knowledge. The student becomes the focal point and is given complete autonomy,thus paving the way for him or her to become a learner who learns how to learn.Problem Based Learning was initially practiced and implemented in 1960 at the McMasterSchool of Medicine and Surgery, in Canada, with Karin Von Schilling. In 1976, H.S. Barrowsexperimented and applied it at the Springfield School of Medicine and Surgery in the UnitedStates. In Europe, it was experimented in The Netherlands in 1980, also in the School of Medicine and Surgery, by Schimdt.In setting up a Problem Based Learning framework, particular importance in given to theteamwork of the teachers who must create an appropriate learning environment. This isachieved by dividing the students into small groups and offering them situations thatfunction both as stimulus and problem which the students must tackle by following somefundamental steps (the 7-step method) under the guidance and supervision of a tutor.In order to confront a problem and come up with a possible solution, the group must: 1)clarify the terms found within the problem through an accurate analysis; 2) establish howmuch is known about the problem in order to lay the bases for solving it (what do weknow); 3) analyze its contents (define the problem); 4) identify the learning objectives(what are the new things that have to be learned) in order to come up with the strategiesneeded to arrive at the solution; 5) select the best solution and test it; 6) present andperhaps be ready to defend the proposed solution; and 7) allow each participant to examineand evaluate his or her own contribution and performance.At this stage of the procedure, a lot of importance is given to group discussion and theability to negotiate and share with the other members the hypothetical solutions that havebeen gathered within the group. In addition to this, the ability of each group member to
back up his or her own point of view with documentary evidence is equally important in thatit allows all of the group members to benefit from each others’ findings.In Barrowsmodel (see attached) students entering a medical course are divided intogroups of 5 and each group is assigned a facilitator. The students are then given a problemin the form of a case study containing particular symptoms. The students must diagnosethe problem and come up with a possible treatment.The students are unaware of what the problem is until they are presented with it. Theythen discuss the problem, formulate hypotheses based on their experience and knowledge,identify which elements are relevant in the problem and establish what the learningobjectives must be. These objectives are paramount to each of the aspects that aredeemed relevant in solving the problem that the group feels they do not understand as wellas they should. A training session is not considered complete until each student has beengiven the opportunity to reflect upon his or her initial opinions regarding the diagnosis andtake responsibility for the particular learning objectives which had been established. Thereare no pre-defined objectives; the objectives are established by the students based on theiranalysis of the problem. After the training session, the students undertake a self-studysession. There are no assigned textbooks and, although the Department designates specialtutors the students can turn to and consult should they wish to do so, the students arecompletely autonomous and free to choose the information they are looking for on theirown.
Problem Based Learning,
therefore, calls into play all of the didactic strategies that arecentered on the student and are based upon the guided solution of real problems, whichfalls well within the problem-solving approach. In an e-learning environment, the processcan be divided into different phases that are accompanied by the specific support of a tutor.Formulating the problem is the first of these phases. Here, the tutor must present theparticipants with a problematic situation and offer them the type of information that willallow them to identify and define the problem. In fact, this first step requires that thestudents examine the problem on the basis of the information available so they can draftsome possible solutions by using, for example, an apposite web forum or chat line.Afterwards, each participant can gather the appropriate information individually by furtherexamining any available resources, comparing similar cases and, of course, turning to thesupport of a tutor who will continue to be available for consultation. The problem is then re-read based on the information that has been gathered. The hypotheses that were

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