Blog Archives

A little PBL exercise

Problem-based learning is so popular and trendy it has its own acronym PBL. And why not? Anything that gets students wondering how something might have happened and how to solve it can only be a good idea.

Those folks at Samsung have embedded PBL into an interesting publicity feature for their new video/camera phone. Have a look through the first 40 seconds and then hit pause. Ask yourself how they did it.

Marking scheme as follows –

  • You didn’t stop and think and instead let the vid run to reveal the answer = 0 marks
  • You came up with a reasonable explanation but it wasn’t the correct one = 5 marks
  • You puzzled and puzzled for ages coming up with possibilities that you knew were more or less  infeasible = 3 marks
  • You puzzled for a little while then asked the person sitting beside you for the answer help = 3 marks (but only if you got the right answer, otherwise 0)
  • You pressed stop instead of pause on the vid and surfed elsewhere instead = -5 marks
  • You puzzled out the correct explanation = 10 marks

PS – if you don’t know what a cloaked Klingon Bird-Of-Prey is… you’re not nearly nerdy enough. I recommend going to see the new Star Trek movie. Ok, the Klingons don’t feature prominently in it but it’s definitely worth seeing.

PPS – once again thanks to Darragh Doyle for the vid link

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The old vs. the new

Back in the olden days of the last century when I was an undergraduate the lecturing process was very specific. 

  • The lecturer talked.
  • The students listened, processed, and wrote down as much of it as they could.
  • The lecturer departed.

There were smaller group tutorials where students had the opportunity to discuss and interact with the lecturer and each other.

Where in these two formats did the learning actually take place?

Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I find that the lecturing process is not much different. However, being on the other side of the desk, literally facing the students I see a different perspective.

Take the large group lecture format, for example. The larger the group of students, the more variety there is in student attention spans, cognitive ability, English language ability, general behaviour, motivation and interest. The larger the group the harder it is to cater for such variety. Here’s a typical scenario – lecturer is explaining a concept –

  • A group of students in corner A pick up the meaning very quickly and understand the concept
  • A group of students in corner B have absolutely no idea of what has been said and are looking blankly at the lecturer
  • A group of students in corner C are having linguistic difficulties and have turned to the student in front of / beside / behind them to ask for a translation in their native language. They now have disturbed all students in that zone.
  • A group of students in corner D have ‘kind of’ understood the concept but  really need it explained again to be sure

What does the lecturer do – re-explain the concept. Result –

  • Students in corner A are quickly bored and begin talking among themselves
  • Students in corner B still haven’t understood the concept
  • Students in corner C are still typically linguistically challenged to some extent, even if the lecturer’s re-explanation is slow in delivery and cuts the jargon
  • Students in corner D now likely understand the concept

What does the lecturer do – move on, not re-explaining the concept. Result –

  • Students in corner A remain tuned in, following the lecture
  • Students in corner B still haven’t understood the concept
  • Students in corner C still haven’t understood the concept
  • Students in corner D still likely haven’t understood the concept

Agreed, the above is generalised and simplified but it begs the question. What’s the point of the traditional lecture? Would the students not be better off with a video recording of the lecturer giving the class? They can re-play it again and again as and when they want. Possible result – students in all corners understand the concepts being presented.

This is something that I discuss on a regular basis with both students and fellow colleagues. All are agreed that the videoed lecture would facilitate students being able to pace themselves. Modern technology means the process should be relatively easy to do. However, most are agreed that the discipline of physically coming to class carries a lot of weight. If students could delay attending their lecture, very allowable in the video version, would they do so indefinitely?

Whoever said lecturing is easy?