PBL database aids educators
BY A. KRISTINA RODRIGUEZ
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,"
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
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
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
"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
"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.