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PBL classrooms at the University of Delaware

(local article on the first PBL classroom at the University of Delaware)

UpDate - Vol. 13, No. 21, Page 1
February 24, 1994
by-Ed Okonowicz

New PBL classroom offers novel teaching approach

Getting answers, solving problems, discovering why things happen and figuring out how to make improvements are a few common, widely accepted educational objectives.

Traditionally, a large percentage of information is passed from instructors to students through lectures and standard classroom demonstrations. While there is agreement that this teaching method is able to relay information efficiently, no one teaching technique is ideal for every situation.

Gore Hall 208 at the University of Delaware,
furnished in 1998
(credits: Hal White)

One approach gaining interest and acceptance by both new and experienced instructors is problem-based learning (PBL).

According to Barbara Duch, a teaching consultant in the Center for Teaching Effectiveness, problem-based learning is considered by some as a return to how learning originated. The approach focuses on identifying a question or problem and then determining what information is needed in order to arrive at the solution. In PBL, students must ask: What do we need to know in order to answer the question?

After gaining a clear understanding of the question, students approach the solution through a rational system of inquiry. A clear understanding of the objective will dictate and guide the efforts at arriving at the solution. This developing learning process may involve choosing appropriate readings, doing relevant research and, sometimes, deciding upon the best way to present the findings to fellow students.

In PBL settings, instructors serve as facilitators, directing students and groups as they work through the exploratory process. If common concerns are identified by several groups, the instructor can focus on those particular questions and respond in an appropriate fashion--be it by a general discussion, a short lecture or demonstration--involving all members of the class.

In problem-based learning sessions, Duch said, decision making occurs very much like it does in the real world. Small groups discuss approaches, engage in problem solving and participate in, at times, animated and rapidly occurring fluid exchanges of information.

While science classrooms seem to be the sites of much problem-based learning instruction at the University, Duch said the approach is relevant and can be applied in most disciplines.

In the fall of 1993, the Center for Teaching Effectiveness proposed that the University design a specific classroom for PBL use. Responses to a questionnaire from the center indicated that faculty--in such diverse areas as political science, business, communication, education, the physical and life sciences and dietetics and nutrition--were interested in the approach and, more importantly, would like to use the new PBL-designed classroom.

Traditional classroom desks, with attached armrests for note taking, are not present in corporate boardrooms or areas used for small discussion group settings. Traditional-style classroom furniture arranged into a circle is not conducive to sharing learning resources and information and takes valuable class time to rearrange.

Specially designed tables--which may be joined together so small groups of six students are able to work face to face, or can be separated so all participants can face the front of the room--have been installed.

Attractive padded chairs, with wheels, are being used. This mobility is important, Duch explained, since teachers and students should be able to redesign the classroom setting easily and rapidly. The mobility also is advantageous when students from different groups mingle to share ideas.

Adjustable and directional lighting, additional chalkboards, on-site computer, video and projection equipment also are features of the room that will enhance both student productivity and faculty involvement.

Duch said she is excited about the University's first PBL classroom. If the response from faculty is as positive as she expects, and requests for its use grow, Duch said she would not be surprised to see additional PBL classrooms constructed throughout the campus.

Wireless laptop technology in Memorial Hall 110,
computers introduced in Fall 2001
(credits: Paul Hyde)

Comments, suggestions, or requests to ud-pbl@udel.edu.
Last updated July 1, 2002.
Copyright Univ. of Delaware, 2002.