| March 23, 2001 | Vol. 127 | Number 41 |

PBL database aids educators


Staff Reporter

Concerned with the way undergraduate students were learning, a group of university staff and faculty joined to envision an innovative and provocative learning methodology.

George Watson, a professor of physics and astronomy, said this vision resulted in the Problem-Based Learning Clearinghouse that was officially launched March 9.

Watson, managing editor of the PBL Clearinghouse, said the PBL endeavor is an online database of problems and articles established for educators to incorporate real-world scenarios in the classroom.

The university model of problem-based learning may be the first of it kind to exist, he said.

"To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to make PBL problems available to educators in the undergraduate setting in an electronic format," he said.

Barbara Duch, associate director of the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center and founder of the PBL Clearinghouse project, said university professors wanted and needed someone to provide quality real-world problems for professors and students to use as tools for development.

In the past, Duch said, problem-based learning questions and resources were not easily accessible because they were created by professors instead of a specialized team.

"I thought if there was an electronic clearinghouse of materials and problems, it would lower the barrier for some faculty who want to use this active learning technique," she said.

Watson said the active PBL model helps educators adopt inventive ways of teaching difficult concepts and theories that sometimes seem convoluted or unnecessary to students.

The framework, similar to case studies used in medical and law schools, he said, invites students to apply abstractions to more practical situations by forcing them to think critically and work with others to discover solutions to real-world occurrences.

Consequently, he said, the concrete problem-based learning model offers a more productive academic experience as students identify the learning issues and actively and cooperatively solve problems.

According to the PBL Web site, more than 3,000 students to date at the university from various academic disciplines have participated in courses with problem-based learning.

Bobby Gempesaw, vice provost of Academic Programs and Planning, said the university is supportive of problem-based learning as an approach in improving student learning and the scholarship of teaching.

"We have developed an excellent international reputation not only in the use of PBL, but also in the faculty-led efforts that made it happen," he said.

Presently, Watson said, the PBL Clearinghouse is only published online for the purposes of expediency and money and to employ the extensive technological infrastructure the university houses.

"With the electronic format, we plan to revise and update problems as needed to modernize the context of the problem, and to keep it relevant and engaging for the professors and students who are working with the problems," he said.

The PBL Clearinghouse is funded by the university, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Unidel Foundation.