Problem‐Based Learning: a framework for prospective teachers’ pedagogical problem solving

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Memorial University of Newfoundland]On: 03 August 2014, At: 11:30Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Teacher Development: An internationaljournal of teachers' professionaldevelopmentPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtde20

    ProblemBased Learning: a frameworkfor prospective teachers pedagogicalproblem solvingChristina De Simone aa University of Ottawa , Ontario, CanadaPublished online: 18 Jul 2008.

    To cite this article: Christina De Simone (2008) ProblemBased Learning: a framework forprospective teachers pedagogical problem solving, Teacher Development: An international journalof teachers' professional development, 12:3, 179-191, DOI: 10.1080/13664530802259206

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  • Teacher DevelopmentVol. 12, No. 3, August 2008, 179191

    ISSN 1366-4530 print/ISSN 1747-5120 online 2008 Teacher DevelopmentDOI: 10.1080/13664530802259206http://www.informaworld.com

    Problem-Based Learning: a framework for prospective teachers pedagogical problem solving

    Christina De Simone*

    University of Ottawa, Ontario, CanadaTaylor and Francis Ltd(Received 11 November 2006; final version received 10 January 2008)RTDE_A_326087.sgm10.1080/13664530802259206Teacher Development1366-4530 (print)/1747-5120 (online)Original Article2008Taylor & Francis123000000August 2008ChristinaDe Simonecdesimon@uottawa.ca

    Current educational reform movements emphasize preparing teachers for pedagogicalproblem solving in the classroom. This study examines the impact of problem-basedlearning on prospective teachers problem-solving abilities. Two classes of prospectiveteachers were included in this study. The experimental class used problem-basedlearning while the control group used a more traditional approach. The dependentmeasure was the participants analyses of a problem. The participants in problem-basedlearning were significantly better than the controls in constructing the central problem,elaborating the problem, relating their solutions to the problem, and using multipleresources. The results are promising because they give prospective teachers a powerfulapproach that fosters certain aspects of pedagogical problem solving. The implicationsof these results for prospective teachers are discussed.

    Keywords: Problem-Based Learning; pedagogical problem solving; teacher education;classroom research; quasi-experimental design

    Introduction

    Many educational reform movements call for preparing teachers to work through the diverseand complex problems that arise in the classroom and in pedagogy (Putnam and Borko 2000).Problem solving is difficult for teachers because of the complexity of the problems they face:managing the classroom, assessing learning, teaching to meet individual differences, andbuilding parentteacher relationships (Putnam and Borko 2000; Zeichner and Conklin 2005).Problem solving requires framing problems, considering multiple perspectives, arriving atsolutions, considering consequences, and reflecting on the decision (Harrington 1995;Hmelo-Silver and Barrows 2006; Mayer and Wittrock 2006). Teachers need strategies andstructures that connect theory with practice (Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears 2005). Withoutsuch strategies and structures, problems in the classroom become insurmountable (Zeichnerand Conklin 2005).

    Conceptual framework

    Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is aligned with the constructivist framework that viewslearning and teaching as the active and meaningful inquiry and building of knowledge bylearners. PBL fosters both inquiry- and knowledge-based approaches to problem solving. Asan inquiry-based approach, its focus is on helping professionals such as teachers work

    *Email: cdesimon@uottawa.ca

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    through authentic, complex problems or cases (Bereiter and Scardamalia 2006; Hmelo-Silver 2004). The cases simulate real-life classroom decision making (Brown, Collins, andDuguid 1989), including considering multiple perspectives, warranting solutions, assessingconsequences, and reflecting on decisions.

    In addition to preparing teachers for professional practice, PBL prepares them toconstruct a principled understanding of the issues in the problem case, so they learn to applyprinciples flexibly to problems of varying complexity (Bereiter and Scardamalia 2006) asopposed to merely tackling individual problems or problems that can easily be solved.Under the guidance of a probing mentor, members of small problem-solving groups workat identifying the central issue in the case, an essential initial phase in the problem-solvingprocess (Harrington 1995; Hmelo-Silver 2004). That is, they define the problem and thebasis for its identification as the problem. Understanding a problem allows the problemsolver to see underlying patterns and the big picture.

    PBL also requires that group members identify learning issues, that is, what needs to belearned to resolve the problem (Hmelo-Silver 2004; ODonnell 2006). Grounded in thecontext of their domain, the group must engage in a problem-solving sequence of seekinginformation from a variety of sources, justifying their decisions, discussing findings, andweighing consequences in order to construct a viable and possibly even innovativesolution. These skills and processes are vital in helping prospective teachers to build theirknowledge bases and see the underlying patterns and issues in their classrooms. Otherwise,they will deal with issues in isolation and, eventually, experience difficulty in their class-rooms (Shulman 1987; Spiro et al. 1987).

    The expert facilitator has an important function as the groups work through their learningissues. Under the guidance of the expert facilitator, drawing from the literature and practice,group members engage in questioning, revising, and entertaining various views of the issuesthey uncovered within the case. These processes are critical to connecting possible solutionsto the problem and evaluating those solutions, two components of problem solving that bothprospective and new teachers find difficult (Harrington 1995; Hmelo-Silver 2004). Prospec-tive teachers should be able to ground their decisions in the literature and to scrutinize thatliterature, in addition to any information that they can garner from their own experiences(Hmelo-Silver and Barrows 2006). The PBL process helps prospective teachers develop abroader, more principled understanding of classroom and pedagogical issues.

    As part of fostering the knowledge-building function of problem-based learning inprospective teachers, the study cases must be presented in multiple contexts so that they canbe revisited from multiple perspectives and purposes. According to researchers (e.g., Spiroet al. 1992), this approach helps prospective teachers form networks of ideas and seepatterns across problems and issues so they extend and transfer their thinking from whatthey encounter in the university to their work as teachers. Thus, problem-based learning letsprospective teachers create a rich foundation for solving similar or more serious problemsin the classroom. In other words, problem-based learning prepares them for their futurelearning (Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears 2005).

    Relevant scholarly literature

    Problem-based learning has been a valuable pedagogical strategy in medical education for30 years (Barrows and Tamblyn 1980; Gijbels et al. 2005; Walton and Matthews 1989). Ithas become increasingly popular in teacher education since the 1980s (Lambert and Ball1998; Merseth 1996). Researchers have followed two major strands of studies. The first arerich qualitative studies exploring how members of a PBL group collaborate and what affects

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  • Teacher Development 181

    their collaboration (Hmelo-Silver and Barrows 2006), how the nature of the dialogue affectslearners motivation, the quality of PBL cases (Hung 2006), and implementation issues(Ertmer and Simons 2006). The other are studies of PBL in teacher education which havefocused on several innovative descriptions, sometimes involving pre-test and post-testdesign but no control group (Hmelo-Silver 2000; Levin, Hibbard, and Rock 2002; Petersonand Treagust 1998; Torp and Sage 2002).

    Unlike medicine, where entire curricula have adopted problem-based learning andexperimental strategies to assess its effectiveness are prominent, in education we typicallyfind one instructor implementing PBL using a pre-test and post-test design. Perhaps, aseducators, we assume the testing and evaluation of strategies is not as important as it is inmedicine, or it may be that education professors do not get support to try educational inno-vations and fear taking risks in case things go wrong and affect their prospects for renewaland promotion. It is critical, however, to assess PBLs effectiveness in teacher education.

    Because in education we cannot conduct true experiments, with random selection andassignment, we use quasi-experimental designs with a control group and pre-measures tocompensate (Creswell 2006). The present study addresses the effectiveness of problem-based learning compared to a more traditional approach to teacher education by using acontrol group. The research design of choice is quasi-experimentation (Tabachnick andFidell 2001).

    Using the quasi-experimental design, the main question was Are prospective teacherstrained with problem-based learning better able to engage in problem solving than those nottrained in using PBL? and used the definitions of problem solving delineated in Bransfordand Stein (1984), Harrington (1995), and Hmelo-Silver (2002). I examined prospectiveteachers abilities to (a) generate varied questions, (b) identify the central problem, (c) statethe problem definition, (d) relate the solution to the problem, (e) evaluate the solution, (f)provide a feasible solution, (g) use the literature to support their solution, and (h) use otherresources to support their solution.

    Method

    Participants

    The participants were prospective teachers enrolled in a one-year teacher educationprogram, who were required to take an introductory educational psychology course (alsoreferred to as a learning processes course). One of the classes was the experimental group(n = 38); the other was the control group (n = 38). The majority of the students in bothsections were English-speaking females (average age 32). The experimental group had fourmale participants (average age 26) while the control group had five male participants(average age 23). Both classes met during the winter session. To control for teacher andresources effects, I taught both classes. I used the same reading materials and resourceswith both classes. To minimize carry-over effects between the two conditions, I scheduledthe sections on consecutive days of the week, the control class earlier and the experimentalclass later. In addition, a research assistant and I developed instructional plans for eachcondition to serve as guides when teaching. Any deviations and the reasons for them wererecorded by me after the class session and discussed with the research assistant. Unfortu-nately, classroom observations of implementation fidelity of both the experimental andcontrol conditions were not feasible. Neither could we monitor if students from eithercondition communicated about their class activities. The advantage, however, was that bothgroups shared many similarities that gave them the appearance that something new washappening in both conditions.

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    Design and measures

    This study took advantage of two intact groups of prospective teachers. My main objec-tive was to compare the effectiveness of problem-based learning to a more traditionalproblem-solving approach. In order to reach this objective, an explicit manipulation wasintroduced (PBL vs. traditional) and appropriate steps to control extraneous factors in thedesign, implementation and measures were taken so that statistical inferences could bedrawn. Thus, this study design was a quasi-experimental pre-test/post-test with a controlgroup. The pre-test, a case called A Serious Illness, measured the participants baselineproblem-solving abilities. The main dependent measure was solving the problem of apost-training case, Youre Not in My Group (Durkin 2002). Participants in both groupswere instructed (a) to comment on the appropriateness of the teachers actions orthoughts, (b) to describe and give reasons for their approach and (c) to list the advantagesand disadvantages of their recommendations. In their responses, they were to include theproblem-solving components. Participants were scored on their ability to (a) generatequestions that they would like to ask the teacher, (b) identify the problem, (c) state theproblem definition, (d) relate the solution to the problem, (e) evaluate the solution, (e)provide a solution, (f) use the literature to support that solution, and (g) use otherresources to support that solution. Although participants were permitted to work with theirgroup members or p...

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