What does PBL look like in the classroom?

Purpose of this Site

What is PBL?

Why PBL?


PBL in the classroom

Group Dynamics

Individual Roles

Role of instructor

How to do PBL

Example Problems


Schools using PBL

PBL at Stanford

PBL Organizations

Ways to learn PBL

There are several models of how PBL works in the classroom. All of them agree that in a PBL curriculum,

  1. students work through a series of problems designed to:
    • be authentic (i.e. address real-world concerns)
    • target defined areas of the curriculum
    • be "ill-structured" - they must be defined and analyzed through inquiry from a minimum of presenting information
    • approximate the real world, so that students find
      themselves actually engaged in the problem and not just observers of it;

  1. the role of the instructor changes from a "sage on the stage" to a "guide on the side";
  2. students work collaboratively in small groups toward the problem's resolution.

Barrows proposes the following model of the PBL process in How to Design a Problem-based Curriculum for the Preclinical Years, 1985.

Students read and address problem, without background preparation.

*Teaches students to encode and organize information in useful ways.

*Allows students to find what they know and what they donšt know. Misconceptions can be corrected in discussion of the problem.

*Mimics the real life context they will face as doctors.

Students discuss and analyze problem using prior knowledge and resources available.

Tutor poses questions: ie. Do you need more information? Are you sure of the facts or will a review be helpful? Do you think more information on this area would be helpful?

Tutors encourage hypotheses are grounded in science.

*Development of cognitive skills for problem-solving process

*Development of self-monitoring skills to identify the learning needs

*Development of habitual student-initiated questioning

Students decide what they need to know and where they might best find the information. They decide which resources to use (people, published papers, etc.). *Self-directed study

Students revisit problem with new information and knowledge acquired during self-study.

Students critique learning resources used.

Group decides appropriate hypotheses and critiques prior performance.

*New organization of information to problem-solve.



Students should think about how what they learned has added to their understanding



Another variation of inclass activity follows on the next page.

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