Problem based learning in practice: listening to lecturers - an investigation of academics’ perceptions and practice concerning problem based learning

Siobhan B. G. MacAndrew, Caprice Lantz, Lorraine Walsh, Crawford Morton, Kehinde Oduyemi

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SHEER2 Final report S. MacAndrew et al October 2008 This report is aimed at a general readership. It will be of interest to lecturers, educational developers and senior managers in universities. The further reading section provides more specific detail on background literature and context. Aim The study investigates academics’ perceptions and practice concerning problem based learning. Our aims are best summarised by our research questions. These were: 1. How do lecturers perceive problem based learning? 2. What is lecturers’ working definition of problem based learning? 3. What are lecturers’ opinions on the effectiveness or otherwise of problem based learning? 4. What are lecturers’ observations concerning the student experience of problem based learning? 5. What materials do lecturers typically use during problem based learning sessions? Method Twenty-one academics at the Abertay University, the University of Dundee and the University of the West of Scotland and two academics from Temple University, Philadelphia USA volunteered to participate in open ended participant-led discussions about the nature of problem based learning and its use in teaching. The sessions included both group and individual discussions arising from a predetermined set of facilitating questions (see Appendix 1). The disciplines represented included biology, chemistry, contemporary science, construction and the environment, creative technology, engineering, food technology, nursing, nutrition, physical activity and health, psychology, and sport and sport coaching. A university careers advisor and the business director of a multimedia teaching space also participated. The lecturers ranged in experience from newly appointed lecturers at the start of their teaching careers to experienced lecturers to lecturers in senior management positions. Participants were willing to have their comments paraphrased or quoted verbatim. Findings This report is based on written records of the data collection sessions. Specific topics raised by participants are summarised and structured below. Consideration of all of the responses reveals six approaches adopted by academics when preparing problem based learning material. These approaches are as follows: • Operational focus • Knowledge focus • Graduate attribute focus • Relative contribution focus • Student engagement focus • Student self-monitoring focus Appendix 2 details methodological considerations of relevance to this report. Implications The specific comments of the participants provide a unique window into academics’ current thinking concerning the use of problem based learning. The seven approaches detailed here could provide a template for designing PGCert material to facilitate academics. This material could be focused to assist lecturers in developing their own individual approach to creating problem based learning material in their teaching. Executive summary
Original languageEnglish
PublisherHigher Education Academy Scotland
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Problem based learning
  • Enquiry based learning
  • Staff attitudes
  • Practice in PBL
  • Action research


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