PHOTON Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

A Photonics Curriculum and Professional Development Project

Problem Based Learning (PBL) is an educational method that engages students in inquiry based “real world” problem solving. It has been used extensively in medical education since the early 1970s. While already adopted in other fields including business, law and education, it is only beginning to emerge in engineering and technology education as an alternative to the traditional lecture-based approach. The project’s goal is to create teaching materials using this student-centered problem-solving method in teaching photonics and optics.

Project PBL Goals:

  • Create eight multimedia problem-based scenarios called Challenges, with accompanying instructional resources in photonics technology, to complement the curriculum and laboratory materials developed during the PHOTON2 project. All materials will be aligned to both academic and industry skill standards.
  • Recruit and train high school and community college photonics technology instructors from more than 20 institutions to field-test the Challenges. They will implement, field test, and evaluate the problem-based challenges in classrooms with their students.
  • Conduct quantitative and qualitative research on the efficacy of PBL in engineering technician education.
  • Disseminate the successfully field-tested problem-based challenges and research findings to science and technology programs in high schools, community colleges and four-year colleges and universities.

Project Methodology:
The PHOTON PBL project addresses the need for change in traditional science & technology instructional practice, moving from teacher centered to student centered learning. It provides participating educators with instruction, technical support and feedback during the three-year period of the grant, while creating a body of teaching materials other instructors can use at their own institutions.

The PHOTON PBL multimedia problem-based Challenges are developed in collaboration with industry and research university partners. The Challenges will actively engage students in a “real-world” problem solving process. The Challenges, designed for completion in 3-4 weeks, are directly linked to the highly successful PHOTON curriculum and laboratory materials, which have already been used by more than 60 secondary and postsecondary institutions across the U.S.

To provide feedback, pedagogy experts are working with instructional designers to develop and test a “multiple measures” approach to student assessment that will be integrated into the problem-based challenges. Researchers will examine the extent to which specific professional development activities conducted by the PHOTON PBL project contribute to changes in teaching practices (i.e., transfer of training) among participating teachers and faculty.

Successfully tested Photon PBL Challenges will be disseminated in collaboration with industry associations such as OSA, SPIE, LIA and NEFC, through education and technology associations, NSF/ATE projects and Centers, conference presentations, the PHOTON PBL web site, a newsletter and other dissemination strategies. The PHOTON PBL Challenges will lead to a better-prepared workforce that can compete successfully in a globally competitive workplace.

PHOTON PBL Project Funding
In 2006, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) received a three-year grant from the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund Project PHOTON PBL. The grant is the fourth in a series of ATE/NSF grants awarded to NEBHE to strengthen optics/photonics curricula in secondary and post-secondary institutions in New England and across the country. The new grant employs Problem-Based Learning (PBL) where technology students will solve real-world “challenges” contributed by industry and research partners.

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