Unlike traditional instruction in which students attend lectures, solve well-defined end-of-chapter homework problems, and engage in highly structured “cookbook” type laboratory activities, PBL is open-ended and contextualized as opposed to student learning which is driven by the problem itself. With PBL, students’ learn the process of structured problem solving in addition to course content by engaging in a systematic and recursive process that begins with problem analysis. During the initial analysis, students must carefully and methodically dissect the problem to identify what is known and unknown, reflect on prior knowledge to identify knowledge gaps, situational constraints and other pertinent problem features, to properly frame the problem, and establish criteria for a successful solution. Once the problem has been properly framed, students engage in self-directed learning, setting specific learning goals and a timeframe to seek out the knowledge and skills needed to solve the problem. After the required information has been acquired, students reconvene with their teams to brainstorm possible solutions. Upon agreeing on a potential solution, students test their ideas to validate their solution. If the solution generated does not adequately address the established criteria for success, the process is then repeated. A hands-on component can often supplement this process but unlike project based learning, it is not necessary to have laboratory equipment to solve a PBL problem.
Whenever possible the NEBHE PBL instructional materials called “Challenges” provide hands-on activities that use simple and/or common lab materials to illustrate the principles of the Challenge. Examples of hands-on activity projects can be found in the Teacher Resources Technical Document located in the Teacher Resources section of each Challenge (Note: This section is password protected. [Passwords can be obtained upon request by contacting email@example.com.] However, the Challenges can be taught without hands-on activities, allowing students to learn about complex and expensive systems without needing to experience them first hand.
Each PBL Project has developed a set of interdisciplinary, multimedia real-world Challenges (case studies) in partnership with industry. The web-based Challenges are designed for implementation in secondary and post-secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. A flexible approach to implementation allows instructors to introduce students to PBL at various levels of difficulty and over a period of time best suited for their individual class.
The PBL Projects team has provided professional development training for instructors and administrators in the use of the PBL Challenges. Please contact Principal Investigator, Fenna Hanes, to learn more about professional development opportunities at email address firstname.lastname@example.org and telephone number 617-357-9620 x129.
To support students with a range of mathematics backgrounds, the PHOTON PBL and STEM PBL Challenges have also been aligned to video lessons and practice problems from Khan Academy, a free multimedia educational resource. Khan Academy alignment for the new AM PBL Challenges is forthcoming.
Moving forward, all of the PBL Projects’ Challenges will be aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
The AM PBL Challenges will also be aligned to the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) criteria.
To ensure that students receive a holistic education in a specific content area, there are three separate assessment tools designed to capture students’ content knowledge, conceptual knowledge, and problem solving ability. The content knowledge assessment uses three levels of content-related questions ranging from simple multiple-choice questions to more difficult closed-ended problems to more open-ended and thought provoking problems. The content knowledge assessment can be modified to meet the needs of the individual instructor and/or curriculum. The conceptual knowledge assessment uses concept mapping to assess students’ conceptual understanding of the main topics or concepts presented in the Challenge and their understanding of the relationships between concepts. This is a powerful method used to bridge the gap between interrelated concepts and principles typically taught in isolation of each other in traditional lecture-based instruction. Finally, the problem solving ability assessment captures the all-important processes students used in solving the Challenge problem. This represents the most authentic form of assessment because it taps into students’ cognitive and metacognitive processes through the process of reflection.
Similarly, the project team collects and utilizes evaluation materials from professional development workshops, and conducts focus groups and individual interviews with secondary and postsecondary participants in its projects. Findings from the aforementioned evaluations are used to develop reports, academic papers and other dissemination materials to share with the public and the project’s funder.
Once educators are familiar with the PBL Challenge format, and have used Challenges with their students, the next step is a “Make Your Own Challenge” workshop to then introduce the PBL Challenge Design Guide (see below) and template to create their own PBL Challenges with industry or community partners. Educators are coached through researching and identifying potential problems that both address the learning outcome requirements of their courses and engage students in meaningful real-world problem solving.
The “Introduction to PBL” and/or “Make Your Own Challenge” workshops, as well as customized versions, can be delivered, for a fee, for a single institution or district, or as an open workshop for multiple institutions and/or school districts. To learn more please contact AM PBL Principal Investigator Fenna Hanes at email@example.com or 617-533-9529.
PBL Challenge Design Guide
Over the past six years, NEBHE’s PBL Projects team has provided professional development in the use of its PBL Challenges to hundreds of STEM educators across the country. But teaching teachers to use any existing PBL Challenges provides limited opportunities for students to engage in real-world problem solving, thus reducing the enormous potential to develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills that are desperately needed in the 21st century workplace.
To help teachers move beyond the use of NEBHE’s PBL curriculum materials, Co-Principal Investigators Massa and Donnelly created a PBL Challenge Design Guide focused on helping teachers identify “good” PBL problems and create their own PBL Challenges that align with their specific learning outcomes and assessment requirements. The guide was initially field-tested in a graduate level Technology and Engineering Education (TEE) course in PBL methods at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) during the spring of 2012.
The PBL Projects team has conducted a number of professional development workshops aimed at teaching educators how to develop their own PBL Challenges. Workshops were held at Boston University, CCSU, Kennebec Valley Community College, the Southern Regional Education Board’s (SREB) annual High Schools That Work conference in Charlotte, N.C., the Education and Training in Optics and Photonics conference in Porto, Portugal, and the request for workshops continues to grow.
Consulting Case Study
Integrating PBL into Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) Energy Services and Technology (EST) Project
Partnering with the mechanical services industry and the New England Board of Higher Education, Kennebec Valley Community College’s (KVCC) Energy Services and Technology (EST) project is focused on producing more qualified technicians to meet the growing demand from Maine-based employers who need employees that possess a combination of cross-cutting technical skills and the ability to problem-solve complex, systemic issues. KVCC received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education-funded program (NSF ATE DUE# 1204933) to develop a new associate degree program in EST.
The PBL Projects team consulted with KVCC EST faculty members to assist them, using the PBL Challenge Design Guide, to create their own PBL Challenges for four new five-credit lab-based courses that are part of the new program. New Challenges were developed and continue to be implemented in the following EST courses: PBL 101 – Plumbing Fundamentals, PBL 201 – Advanced Plumbing, HAC 101 – Heating Fundamentals, and HAC 201 – Advanced Heating.
For more information about consulting options, contact AM PBL Principal Investigator Fenna Hanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through participation in the CCSU courses, pre- and in-service technology and engineering instructors:
• Learn how to incorporate problem-based learning in the classroom by using NEBHE’s PBL Challenges.
• Experience PBL as students tasked with solving a PBL Challenge.
• Receive a comprehensive overview of student and teacher resources developed by the project.
• Learn field-tested assessment and implementation strategies for PBL.
• Receive access to the PBL Challenge instructional materials.
• Gain access to a PBL listserv for continued networking with the PBL project team and PBL practitioners.
The new Advanced Manufacturing PBL Challenges will be integrated into both courses. As a capstone project for the course, students will use the pedagogical strategies and technical skills they acquire throughout the semester to develop original multimedia PBL Challenges related to advanced manufacturing topics of their choosing. The capstone projects will help to build and sustain an online library of PBL instructional resources designed by in-service STEM educators.
In addition, STEM teacher educators who were selected to participate in the Advanced Manufacturing PBL Institute will learn how to:
• Introduce the Teaching Technology and Engineering Education pre-service undergraduate PBL course in place at CCSU into their own institution’s teacher education programs.
• Implement the STEM PBL Applications for Science and Technology Teachers graduate course in place at CCSU into their own institution’s teacher education programs.
For more information on the CCSU PBL pedagogy courses, please contact Co-PI James DeLaura, chair, Technology and Engineering Education Department, CCSU, at email@example.com.
Although the PBL Challenges are technology-based, each Challenge is modifiable to fit a particular classroom’s needs, allowing even the most seemingly technical Challenges to be utilized in introductory courses. Please contact the project team at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions on how to adjust the PBL Challenges to fit your curriculum.
Most students will immediately go to Google to try and find a solution without first thinking through what they are looking for. This is the beauty of the Whiteboards. When completing the “What do I need to learn?” column in the Problem Analysis Whiteboard, I would ask them to explain to me why that information is important and how will it be used. This is the role of the facilitator. This will help the students focus their efforts on finding relevant information that they can justify in their final report. Otherwise they will submit hundreds of pages of useless material…I know…I see it all the time. The goal is to get them to think strategically – to synthesize the information they find and summarize how and why it was used to solve the problem.