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Problem Based Learning in the Educational System of Cyprus

Technical Report
Intercollege/University of Nicosia
October 2008

EUCLIDES – Enhancing the Use of Cooperative Learning to
Increase Development of Science Studies

Dr Philippos Pouyioutas
Vice Rector
Mr Emilios Solomou
Campus Director
Dr Christina Ioannou

University of Nicosia/Intercollege

EUCLIDES – Enhancing the Use of Cooperative Learning to Increase Development of Science studies
Grant Agreement 2007-3434/001-001
This 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 use
which may be made of the information contained therein.


secondary and tertiary education institutions worldwide. analytical and creative. as well as individual research. The key characteristics of PBL are that it involves team work and communication skills. Interviews with selected professors of the Education Department of the University of Nicosia 5. PBL is used extensively in elementary. 2 . among many others. Interviews with selected teachers of primary and secondary education of state and private schools in Cyprus 4. engineering and architecture. It was first used as a pedagogical approach in the 1960’s at McMaster University Medical School (Ontario. which were sent to a number of schools in Cyprus 2. The research was conducted for all levels of the Educational System and was carried out through: 1. Interviews with selected professors of various disciplines of the University of Nicosia 6. and has also been adopted in various fields of professional training. Canada). such as nursing.1. Today. Introduction This report describes the findings of the research on problem-based learning in the Educational System of Cyprus. The completion of questionnaires (constructed based on the research index developed by the project co-ordinator). a problem-solving capacity. Problem Based Learning Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a total approach to education that challenges students to learn through an active engagement in real life problems. Literature review from hard-copy and on-line resources (through the Internet) 2. Study of the educational curriculum of the programmes of study of the Primary and Pre-primary Education of the 5 Universities in Cyprus offering these programmes 3. in an attempt to restructure medical school education and enable students to apply their scientific knowledge to clinical problems. critical.

who build a learning environment that is receiving of open inquiry. in the PBL process. guidance is provided by the instructor at the early stages. As Merrill explains. and are then gradually given more complex problems. where elements are added to make them more realistic (Merrill. Mullins. It ought to be emphasized that PBL is based upon resolving problems that are encountered in everyday life. group. They are able to identify the root of the problem and the conditions that are needed in order to find a good solution to it. 1988). actual problems should be given to them to solve (Sweller.According to Wood. it triggers their curiosity and their interest and engages them in a process of problem-solving that involves experiential learning. as learners gained experience and expertise. PBL can therefore be thought of as a small. and later. through the utilization of genuine experiences. PBL can be more effective if students are first introduced to simple problems. “group learning thinking facilitates not only the acquisition of knowledge but also several other desirable attributes. 2000). and respect for others. Meanwhile. where necessary. 3 . provides some problem solving structure” (Kiley.teaching method that combines the acquisition of knowledge with the development of generic skills and attitudes” (Wood. independent responsibility for learning. 2002). 2007). “Throughout the process the tutor acts as a facilitator rather than a teacher. gradually. 2003). 2002). Students then become “engaged problem solvers” (Torp and Sage. problem solving. thus becoming self-directed learners. PBL is a method that basically challenges students to think. teamwork. such as communication skills. as learners gain expertise and become more confident. 2002). Instead of providing answers the tutor encourages useful lines of questioning and. and suggested that at these early stages worked examples should be offered. and also provide enthusiasm for the students (Torp and Sage. 2006). sharing information. Regardless of the discipline. teachers / instructors become problem-solving colleagues or cognitive coaches. 2002. Sweller described this as the “guidance-fading effect” (Sweller. He proposed cognitive load theory in an attempt to explain how a learner reacts to problem solving at the early stages of learning. this guidance is gradually faded (Merrill. Peterson and Rogers.

(all of which are done by students in PBL curricula). 4. Therefore. The constructivist view is in line with the idea that the instructor’s role should be to provide guidance. as follows: PBL Tutorial Process Step 1 – Identify and clarify unfamiliar terms presented in the scenario. the continuous process of interaction and discussion that is embedded in PBL is consistent with constructivism. 1996). and refine or restructure knowledge as more relevant experience is gained. contrast one’s understanding of that knowledge with others’ understanding. Thus. scribe lists those that remain unexplained after discussion 4 . The Maastricht “seven jump” process is clearly described by Wood (2003). rather than provide knowledge. the opportunity to find knowledge for oneself. Savery and Duffy identify three primary constructivist principles (Savery and Duffy. The Problem-Based Learning Tutorial Process: A Practical Approach There are numerous ways in which PBL tutorials can be conducted. which consists of seven steps.3. but is ‘constructed’ by the learner based on previous knowledge and overall views of the world. as it is advocated that knowledge is something that is gradually constructed. seems to harness the reality of learning” (Camp. “Constructivism assumes that ‘knowledge’ is not an absolute. PBL is very important. 1995): (i) Understanding comes from our interactions with our environment (ii) Cognitive conflict stimulates learning (iii) Knowledge evolves through social negotiation and evaluation of the viability of individual understandings. A very poplar one is the Maastricht “seven jump” process. The Constructivist Perspective to Problem-Based Learning: The ‘Construction’ of Knowledge From the constructivist philosophical perspective.

Step 2 – Define the problem or problems to be discussed. o What explanations or interpretations are there in the group about these problems? o Which explanation/interpretations seem most useful and why? STAGE 3: RESEARCH AIMS (15 mins) 5 . group reaches consensus on the learning objectives. students may have different views on the issues. This consists of a five-stage process. but all should be considered. Another way of using PBL is suggested by Mills (2008). tutor checks learning and may assess the group. o What sense does the group make of the trigger? o What possible research problems lead from the trigger? List them. scribe records all discussion Step 4 – Review steps 2 and 3 and arrange explanations into tentative solutions. Discuss first reactions to trigger provided by tutor. as follows: STAGE 1: DEFINITION (10 mins) o Appoint chairperson and notetaker. and appropriate Step 6 – Private Study (all students gather information related to each learning objective) Step 7 – Group shares results of private study (students identify their learning resources and share their results). scribe organises the explanations and restructures if necessary Step 5 – Formulate learning objectives. suggesting possible explanations on basis of prior knowledge. STAGE 2: ANALYSIS (30 mins) o ‘Brainstorm’ these possible research problems. achievable. students draw on each other’s knowledge and identify areas of incomplete knowledge. scribe records a list of agreed problems Step 3 – “Brainstorming” session to discuss the problem(s). tutor ensures learning objectives are focused. comprehensive.

e. three hours) o Acquire knowledge in relation to research questions o Group or individual research over the week. has numerous advantages. Divide up tasks. limited to 3 hours o Complete task e. These include. 2008). The fact that PBL challenges students to learn through active engagement in real life problems makes students retain the knowledge they gain for much longer. it promotes the development of life-long learning skills. The PBL approach. it can be stressful and disorienting (Mills. Advantages and Disadvantages of Problem-Based Learning: An Analysis One of the disadvantages that has been reported in relation to the PBL process is that it is a very different teaching process to the one that students have already received and. o Reflections on the learning process 5. among they help an understanding of the research problem? o Final group response to the trigger. The process 6 . as a result.g. as well as the ability to handle problems and work in groups. 2008). preparation of an annotated bibliography of material related to the problem for the other groups. o Agree on how the group will work together during the week . o Formulate the key research problem /hypothesis for investigation o What further knowledge does the group need to explore this problem? o Define three specific research tasks to be completed. The fact that students are no longer given the answers can require a change in their attitude and mind-set.g. STAGE 5: SYNTHESIS (In a second session.g. o Pool findings . usually 1-2 hours long) o Review the newly acquired knowledge within the group. First of all. however. communication and interaction skills.e. research skills. email contact? STAGE 4: RESEARCH (Set a limit to time for independent work. and so it is better if it is introduced in a student’s first year on a course (Mills.

one of its additional benefits is that it is an interdisciplinary method of learning. As already outlined. As a result. However problem based solving is covered in a course on 7 . and this makes them understand the problem better since they are more dynamically involved in the problem-solving procedure. make individuals become better practitioners of their professions. The study of the educational curriculum of the programmes of study of the Primary and Pre-primary Education of the 5 Universities in Cyprus offering these programmes revealed that there is no course in the curriculum dedicated solely to problem-based learning. no case studies. interviews and questionnaires. 2. the research findings are summarized below: 1. All of these aforementioned effects of PBL contribute towards raising the motivation of students and gaining more interest in their subject matter. 6. the research for the integration of problem- based learning into the educational curriculum of Cyprus was conducted at all levels of the Educational System of Cyprus through various means such as literature review. Problem Based Learning in the Educational System of Cyprus – The National Research As mentioned at the beginning of this report. the PBL process can be a very useful pedagogical approach.of experiential learning that students engage in. Overall. No articles. no reports were found on the use of problem-based learning in teaching and learning at any level of the Educational System of Cyprus. on the discretion and after the initiative of the teacher/professor. also allows them to reflect on their very own thinking process. the deviation from the more traditional system of learning and the departure from the traditional didactic mentalities that PBL provides in all fields. with many beneficial effects for the students. The main finding of this research is that although problem-based learning is used in teaching and learning at all levels. More particularly. this is done in a non formal ad-hoc way. The Literature review carried out through the consultation of hard-copy and on-line resources (through the Internet) resulted in NO results.

More specifically. They themselves use this technique in an ad-hoc informal way in teaching various courses. Thus teachers of primary and pre- primary education are introduced to the topic during their studies. The interviews with selected professors of the Education Department of the University of Nicosia confirmed all the above findings (1-3). b. 4. As teachers now. The interviews with selected teachers of primary education (primary and pre- primary education) confirmed the above finding. etc. They also confirmed that the primary education and pre-primary education curriculum at the University of Nicosia and indeed in all other Universities in Cyprus offering these programmes does not include a dedicated course on problem-based learning. they were taught in various courses using problem-based learning. At some point in time the teachers of state school received some information/seminar on the topic from the Ministry of Education and Culture. We interviewed both primary and secondary education teachers. The findings are given below: a. Instead this method/technique is covered as part of a course on modern teaching/learning techniques. The interviews with selected teachers of secondary education (in various fields such as History.) revealed that although they were not taught this topic during their university studies. the professors confirmed that there is no research in Cyprus regarding problem-based learning and thus no case studies and papers written. The interviews with selected University of Nicosia professors of various other than education disciplines revealed that problem-based solving is used as well in an ad- 8 . Modern Techniques in Teaching and Learning. Maths. and use it in a non-formal ad-hoc way throughout all their courses. They themselves (mainly the Science teachers) now use this method in an ad-hoc informal way. that is that the students of the primary and pre-primary education programmes (who subsequently became teachers) are/were taught the topic of problem-based learning not through a specific course but through a general course on modern techniques/methods on teaching and learning. Geography. they do teach the topic through a similar course. 3. 5.

ex-director of the Educational Commission of Cyprus • Dr Michalinos Zembylas. may not easily fit into the curriculum. hoc informal way in teaching and learning. The final part of the research was the gathering of information through written questionnaires/reports from schools. Department of Education. Assistant Professor. may require resources (Equipment/ Material) that are not available and it may delay the delivery of content. It is used however at all levels of Education (from 9 . mainly in science subjects. This is also a practice in the Law Department. Mathematics. University of Nicosia. 6. 7. However. The questionnaire was constructed based on the one prepared by the project co-ordinator. Various Science professors further pointed out that they use open book exams and tests in many courses in order to test the capability of students to solve problems rather than testing the memory of students in reproducing knowledge. Conclusions and Suggestions Summarizing all the above we could say that Problem-based learning has many advantages such as: Helps children learn how to learn. Broadens children’s learning horizons. Biology and Chemistry professors are the ones who use this method the most. University of Nicosia. Open University of Cyprus • Mr Emilios Solomou. Cultivates critical thinking. Makes children think and apply processes. The following experts in Problem-based Learning were interviewed: • Dr Christos Theophilides. Department of Education. Computer Science. The questionnaires were sent to 3 private schools of secondary education. Creates research- oriented skills. namely American Academy Nicosia. Physics. Nicosia Cyprus The Interviews also confirmed our research findings. Problem-based learning has not been introduced and integrated formally and systematically into the Educational System of Cyprus. The returned answers from the 3 school principals basically double confirmed all the aforementioned findings. it is a time consuming process in terms of preparation and teaching. ex-head-master of the English School. Nicosia. G C School of Careers Nicosia and Highgate School. 3. Professor. Campus Director.

Camp. 2. “Problem-Based Learning: A Paradigm Shift or a Passing Fad? MEO 1:2. Based on the research and main conclusions we suggest the following: 1. Problem-Based Learning is integrated into the curriculum of primary and pre-primary education University programmes by introducing a dedicated course on this method/technique. (1997). (1996). There is a misconception amongst non-science teachers/professors that this method cannot be applied to their discipline. The Ministry of Education and Culture to encourage and/or to commission experts to produce material on problem-based learning. All teachers of state and private schools of primary and secondary education are trained annually on problem-based learning. G. by the institutional/government quality assurance bodies. G. 2. 6. Professors at the universities are also trained on problem-based learning 4. This could be subsequently made available to educators at all levels and cover the theoretical framework but also specific subject areas. 7. Comparison analysis studies are carried out to report on the differences of using and not using problem-based learning. Boud. 5. Teachers/professors report annually the teaching/learning activities in which they used problem-based learning. However. D. and Feletti. The challenge of problem based learning. 2nd edition (London: Kogan Page).primary to secondary and to higher education) but mainly by science teachers/professors. 10 . when they were confronted during the interviews they admitted that they could/should use this method/technique in their courses. Teachers/professors are annually “checked” and “inspected” for the use of problem- based learning in their classes. 3. REFERENCES 1.

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