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THE PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING AND ITS

IMPLEMENTATION IN GREECE. A NEEDS ANALYSIS.

University of Crete, Natural History Museum of Crete (NHMC), Dpt of Education

Iasmi STATHI
PhD Biologist, Education Consultant in NHMC
Catherina VOREADOU
PhD Biologist, Head of Education in NHMC

EUCLIDES – Enhancing the Use of Cooperative Learning to Increase Development of Science studies
134246-LLP-1-2007-IT-1-COMENIUS-CMP
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.

ABSTRACT

This report refers to the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and its implementation in the
Educational System of Greece. The research was conducted for all levels of the Educational
System and was carried out through literature review, study of the educational curricula for
the Primary, Secondary and University Education and interviews with selected teachers of
primary and secondary education in Crete, Greece. Everybody agrees that PBL is a quite
innovative methodology for a more effective learning procedure; it is active, more
cooperative, gives strength in diversity and in personal relationships, develops and
empowers students. Though, its implementation in Greek schools is relatively poor and its
incorporation into the educational system has still to be effected.

INTRODUCTION

According to Hmelo-Silver & Barrows (2006), teaching is a complex cognitive activity,
whether accomplished in a teacher-centered or student-centered classroom (Leinhardt
1993). The way of teaching and the strategies that are applied are intimately related to
teachers’ beliefs about the nature of the teaching-learning process (Schoenfeld 1998).
Teachers must juggle many goals as they coordinate pedagogical actions with various kinds
of knowledge, such as subject matter knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and
knowledge of individual students. For experts, teaching is a problem-solving context in
which they must come to understand the meaning of students’ ideas rather than just correct
them (Lampert 2001). This is especially true when teachers and students co-construct the
instructional agenda in a student-centered environment such as Problem-Based Learning
(PBL).

PBL is an active teaching methodology in which an authentic, real-world problem drives the
curriculum. Students work in small groups of about 4 or 5, solving problems presented to
them and which are based on real work scenarios (Boud & Feletti 1997). In other words,
PBL is based on the use of specific problems as a stimulus for learning (Barrows 2000). The
students in PBL learn through solving those problems and reflecting on their experiences
(Barrows & Tamblyn 1980). Such problems do not necessarily have a single correct answer
but require learners to consider alternatives and to provide a reasoned argument to support
the solution that they generate. In PBL, students have the opportunity to develop skills in
reasoning and self-directed learning. Empirical studies of PBL have demonstrated that
students who have learned from PBL curricula are better able to apply their knowledge to
novel problems as well as utilize more effective self-directed learning strategies than
students who have learned from traditional curricula (Schmidt et al. 1996, Hmelo 1998,
Hmelo & Lin 2000). The PBL method requires students to become responsible for their own
learning.

The teacher’s role in PBL is to facilitate collaborative knowledge construction. This means
that the PBL teacher is a facilitator of student learning, and his/her interventions diminish as
students progressively take on responsibility for their own learning processes. This method
is characteristically carried out in small, facilitated groups and takes advantage of the social
aspect of learning through discussion, problem solving and study with peers (Hmelo-Silver
2004). The facilitator guides students in the learning process, pushing them to think deeply
and models the kinds of questions that students need to be asking themselves, thus forming
a cognitive apprenticeship (Collins et al. 1989). They make key aspects of expertise visible
through questions that scaffold student learning through modelling, coaching and eventually
fading back some of their support. In PBL the facilitator is an expert learner, able to model
good strategies for learning and thinking, rather than providing expertise in specific content.
This role is critical, as the facilitator must continually monitor the discussion, selecting and
implementing appropriate strategies as needed. As students become more experienced with
PBL, facilitators can fade their scaffolding until, finally, the learners adopt much of their
questioning role (Hmelo-Silver & Barrows 2006).

As a cognitive apprenticeship, PBL situates learning in complex problems (Hmelo-Silver
2004) and this is the reason why PBL is a very useful method for the teaching of Science
courses. Professional and funding bodies promote PBL as an appropriate strategy for
professional education and it is increasingly becoming the method of choice (Newman
2003).
PBL IN GREECE

Considering the formal Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education in Greece, the PBL
methodology has not been officially implemented in teaching Science courses. This is
because the Greek education system is centralised with a compulsory unified programme for
all the schools in the country. The curriculum is dense, based on compartmentalisation of
subject areas and with a strictly regulated timetable, so it does not offer the possibility of
applying new methods and initiatives. On the other hand, PBL is broadly implemented in
school projects, like the ones that refer to School Environmental Education, which are
complementary activities to Greek School curriculum.

Considering the Higher education, PBL is the main teaching methodology in Science projects
in almost all the Greek Universities (Flogaitis & Alexopoulou 1991, Georgouli et al. 2003,
Grammatikopoulos et al. 2004, Mentzelou 2004, Siasakos et al. 2008, Zografakis et al.
2008).

PBL is also broadly implemented in projects and activities in Greek institutions relevant to
informal education like:

• Centers of Environmental Education, supervised by the Greek Ministry of Education
• Museums
• NGOs
• Other Institutions with educational activities and educational research

Some interesting web sites concerning educational projects in Greece, where PBL is
implemented are the following:

http://www.e-yliko.gr/htmls/programs/eu_progrs.aspx
http://kee.gr/html/english_main.php
http://www.ypepth.gr/en_ec_home.htm
http://www.ea.gr/ea/
IMPLEMENTATION OF PBL IN GREECE

In the following paragraphs, there is a short description of three projects as examples of
PBL implementation in Greece.

1. PROJECT COLLAGE: Collaborative Learning Platform Using Game-like
Enhancements
http://www.ea.gr/ep/collage

The overall objective of COLLAGE project was the creation of an innovative and more
flexible approach to e-learning. The COLLAGE project aspired to identify existing
applications of mobile learning for schools, build on these examples to go a step further and
develop an innovative state-of-the-art application that adopts a game-based approach. The
project was directed to secondary school students and teachers. Indirectly, parents,
education policy makers, technology developers and the general public were also involved.

The COLLAGE project was supported by the e-Learning initiative of the European
Commission. It started on January 2006 and was completed by January 2008.

The COLLAGE project brought to secondary school students and their teachers a mobile
learning platform for context-dependent games. Fun, interdisciplinary, collaboration and
challenge beyond the four walls of the classroom created new learning opportunities. The
COLLAGE platform supported the authoring and playing of a board-like game on a site of
educational interest. The game was played with the aid of mobile learning technology
(mainly mobile phones and PDA's and GPS technology) with direct communication with
players situated on site, field or in the classroom.

One of the real problems for which the methodology of PBL was implemented in the frames
of Collage was the recording of the ecological water quality of a river. The pupils through
context-dependent games and on mobile learning platforms had to adopt the correct
methodology, in order to record these aquatic organisms which are indicators of the quality
of the river ecosystem.
2. PROJECT CONFRESH: Teaching Methods and Pedagogical Strategies for the
Promotion to Schools of CONservation and Sustainable Development of
FRESHwater Ecosystems
www.nhmc.uoc.gr/confresh

The CONFRESH project promoted the conservation and sustainable development of
freshwater ecosystems to schools of secondary education, through professional training of
their educational staff.

It was supported by SOCRATES program (Comenius action) of the European Commission. It
started on October 2005 and finished on September 2008.

The pedagogical and didactical approaches which have been applied, took into account the
previous knowledge of the students, from school and from every day life, as well as the
emotional and the psychological parameters that influence their learning. These approaches
included paper and electronic material, a field guide, hands-on activities, scientific
observation, recording sheets, identification cards and establishment of a SchoolNet through
the project’s webpage.

The real problem for which the methodology of PBL was implemented was the different
types of freshwater pollution which the pupils had to identify, find their sources, learn about
their function and effects on freshwater ecosystems and propose several ideas and
proposals for the recovery of freshwater ecosystems.

3. PROJECT “THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT OF GREECE”
www.nhmc.uoc.gr

The project aims were to present in a simple and comprehensive way the bio- and geo-
diversity of the main ecosystems of Greece and build activities for a step by step discovery
of these ecosystems by the pupils themselves. The teacher’s role was, as facilitator, to
coordinate the learning and discovery procedures.

The project was funded by the Greek Ministry of Education. It started on January 2000 and
was completed on December 2000.

For its implementation, several educational means were used like paper and electronic
material, a field guide, hands-on activities, scientific observation, recording sheets and
identification cards.

The PBL method was based on the following scenario: Two olive oil mills, operating in a
village close to a lake, were disposing their wet wastes into the aquatic ecosystem. The
water of the lake turned black and smelled badly. All the sensitive aquatic organisms had
moved and all aquatic life was in great danger. The students had to discuss the problem,
find the reason for this disaster and take action.
Strengths, criticalities, opportunities and threats

In the three projects above the problems were real, the teacher’s role was as facilitator and
the evaluation was developing during the implementation. The students worked in groups
(cooperative learning), used their previous knowledge (constructivist pedagogy) and high
technology (ICT), searched for relative material and literature, worked in the field, used
aim-specific protocols, got familiar with the use of maps, developed their observatory
capacity by using lenses, stereoscopes and identification cards, constructed field equipment
by their own, analyzed data, came to conclusions, made suggestions and took actions.

Some difficulties also appeared while implementing these projects: the teacher had to spend
a lot of time and effort on their preparation, he/she had to be specialized in biological
subjects, the technology was new and it was difficult for the children to learn how to use it
and the projects were not within the school curriculum, so they had to be conducted in an
off-school time and place.

Those projects gave to students the opportunity to actively participate in the solution of the
problems and not been just observers. Additionally, once these projects were prepared, they
could be used by other schools in Europe and the students from several schools could
cooperate exchanging ideas and experiences and comparing their results.

A threat to their implementation is that equipments of high technology is necessary, and
such equipments are not always available in schools due to their high cost. Additionally, if
the teachers are not specialized on the specific scientific subject they will face many
difficulties to organize such projects. It is a big challenge for a teacher to accept that he/she
is going to learn together with his/her students.
CONCLUSIONS

All scientific literature in Greece agrees that PBL is a quite innovative methodology for a
more effective learning procedure. It is an active methodology, more cooperative and
constructivist, it gives strength in diversity and in personal relationships while in parallel it
develops and empowers students.

PBL implementation at Greek schools, though, is relatively poor and its incorporation into
the educational system has still to be effected. In order to gain this goal it is necessary to
further develop the research and educational experimentation in this field, make pilot
implementation in schools, organize sufficient training to educational staff, give support to a
national program coordinated by Greek authorities, produce printed, audio-visual and in
general didactic material in the Greek language, create the prepositions for sufficient
diffusion of information to teachers and, regarding to the experience that has already been
gained, establish an exchange information system between teachers.
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