Problem-based learning (PBL)

Time: Two lectures minimum

Use: Students work in groups to engage with a problem that may last for several lectures.

Description: The problem works as a stimulus for students to identify what they need to know to solve the problem. (Cooperative and collaborative learning.)

Method: Students working in small groups are assigned a problem. Typically students analyse the problem and discuss their collective knowledge. Potential hypotheses or solutions are brainstormed. The group then identifies what additional information or resources are needed to test the hypothesis.

The group develops a strategy or plan and members are allocated roles. A period of independent research follows. The group reconvenes to share gathered information and to test the hypothesis in light of the new information.

The seven steps are:

  1. Understand the situation/clarify the terminology
  2. Identify the problem
  3. Suggest possible causes (hypothesise)
  4. Connect problems with causes
  5. Decide what information is needed
  6. Conduct research and obtain information
  7. Apply the information

Students may then need to go through the cycle again if original hypotheses are not confirmed. This activity may lead into an assessment.

Notes: There is a range of variations of PBL. Students must be given time to develop their plan
and to reconvene in class. It is also useful to allow students to have another cycle of research and discussion.

Electronic Voting Systems (EVS)

Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Use: Students can either ask or respond to questions via an electronic voting system. EVS can be used for simple questions to check understanding or to give ‘formative feedback’ to both students and the lecturer.  EVS can also be used for brainteasers and to initiate discussion. (Cooperative learning.)

Description: EVS can include the use of online response systems, such as Poll-Everywhere or ProProfs (ProProfs is free.)

Method: Create your questions before the lecture. During the lecture, ask students to access the link and respond to the questions using their mobile devices. The results are displayed instantly. This can be worked around pair work, problem solving and discussion.

Notes: These technologies are relatively easy to use. Students do not need to login so all they need is a device with Wi-Fi access.

Digital story-telling

Time: A digital story should be no more than 5 minutes in length, but may take several hours to develop.

Use: Digital stories are a great alternative to group presentations. (Collaborative learning.)

Description: A digital story is a short movie that may combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and a narrative voice. Digital stories may be used within a lecture as an alternative to group presentations. Students work collaboratively to produce their own digital stories using flip videos, iPhones, iPads, or other mobile devices to record the story, and software such as iMovie or movie makers to edit the movie. The movies can then be uploaded to the Internet or uploaded to LEO via a discussion forum (remember to set an adequate file size for forum attachments).

Method: Students work in groups to create a digital story on a particular topic, as a scenario, a role play, or just a creative (and more interesting) presentation. Students storyboard their movie, record the movies and then edit the story. The storyboard can be discussed with tutors and/or can form part of the assessment.

Notes: A lecture is a great way to showcase the movies – everyone watches the presentations together. Research on the use of digital stories in higher education has shown that students enjoy the process and learn from the experience (especially when tied to a scaffolded assessment).

Jigsaw activities

Time: 30 to 50 minutes (minimum)

Use: Builds student expertise in a particular area. (Collaboration and cooperative learning.)

Description: There are several variations of jigsaw activities. Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each student has a piece of information that is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final artefact, such as a patient profile, an individual education profile or an author’s biography. Students work together in groups to share their knowledge with other group members. This means that every student is both an expert and a receiver of knowledge. If each student's part is essential, then each student is essential; and that is precisely what makes this strategy so effective in large groups.

Method: Two variations are presented below.

Simple Jigsaw: Students are divided into small groups of five to seven students. Each student is given a piece of information or a part to a problem, and a table to fill in. They become the expert in that area. They then have to talk to other members in the group. Each person has to share their information (expert role) while their team member listens and writes down the information (receiver). They swap roles and then check that they have recorded the information correctly. At the end of the activity each member of the group should have a completed table that records all the pieces of knowledge.

Expanded Jigsaw: This is a bit more complicated, but gets people moving. Students are assigned to a group – no more than five to six students. That group is given a piece of information or a problem that they need to work through and solve as a group (no more than five to six pieces of information). Hence, the entire group becomes experts in that area. The students then reform in new groups with people from different areas of expertise to share their information and to hear from others.

Notes: Research has shown that unless students are required to use the information in a meaningful way after the activities, for example, in an assessment or group task, they will focus on developing only their area of knowledge. So, when structuring a jigsaw, think about how you will bring together all of the knowledge. Also note that if the groups become too large, students may not feel comfortable being involved, and may stay quiet or simply copy information from their peers.

Long-term lecture groups

Time: Entire semester

Use: To build a community of learners. Very good for first year undergraduates, and postgraduates. (Cooperative and collaborative learning.)

Method: Students are assigned to a small group of no more than four or five students at the start of semester and are required to sit with that group and work through problems together (even to complete group assessments) over the course of the entire semester. Students can complete activities together and contact each other for help and guidance. The idea is that the students form a buddy group. The group members make sure everyone is completing their work and provide a first point of call for support and assistance.

Notes: Students need to contact each other in the first week to set up a meeting point. A discussion forum visible only to the group could also be provided in LEO. This system works well with postgraduates that are often used to working in teams and enjoy the contact with peers. There needs to be regular occasions (i.e. weekly is better) throughout the semester where students are required to work together in lectures to ensure that the bond between the students is maintained.

Learning & teaching

Please contact the Learning and Teaching Centre for professional development, resources and advice for your learning and teaching needs at ACU.

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