If you ask what students learn when we give them a Problem Based Learning (PBL) “scenario” to learn through, teachers answers are entirely predictable.
In PBL they will tell you ... students learn through activities that are interdisciplinary, student-centered, collaborative, and authentic in that the PBL scenarios are integrated into real world issues and practices.... and what they learn ... well what they learn through PBL learning experiences is stuff that prepares them for living in the 21st Century.
This is usually followed by a string of process talk that buttons the buttons of authenticating the learning> awakening prior knowledge> strengthening prior knowledge> constructing relevant questions> planning the research, discovering relevant information>constructing the knowledge> new insights and understandings is .
And because of these beliefs discussion over the student learning outcomes in PBL tend to revolve around
What information is given to students in the “scenario”?
What do students infer from the information they are given in the “scenario”
And sometimes but not often enough
What do students assume from the information they are given in the “scenario”
These are undoubtedly worthy questions for educators to explore but I think there are better ones...
I’d like to “lucychili wind” the focus out a bit and look at learning through problem solving per se. To ask what else is being learned through PBL activity?
To ask ...
- What information is given to students who learn through PBL pedagogies?
- What do students infer from the information they are given?
- What do students assume from the information they are given?
I think that an inconvenient problem is exposed when we examine the information, inference and assumptions made by students when they are immersed in PBL.
In PBL students learn that:
1. Problems in a lived experience are identified and described by people with institutional authority.
ie The act of giving students the PBL scenario means for students problem finding and problem scoping is something passive, something done by others with institutional authority.
Students must assume that
2. People with institutional authority can reliably and validly identify problems in the lived experience of others.
And although they sit outside the problem framing, and outside the lived experience, students must infer that
3. They can “solve” the problems identified and described by someone in authority in a way that satisfies the perspectives of the person who framed the problem .... the person with institutional authority
And that although they sit outside the problem framing, and outside the lived experience,I suspect that all our talk about authenticity means that in PBL we encourage the belief that
4 They can “solve” the problems identified and described by someone in authority in a way that satisfies the perspectives of the people identified in the scenario.
When we asssess or encourage their peers to assess the outcomes I suspect we tell students that
5. When problems are initiated by others, the problem solving response must fit within the solutions pre-determined by the problem constructor
By that I mean that the way in which the PBL case study is constructed will favour particular solutions – that old “Problems are formulated by people who can envisage a solution”.
Furthermore In PBL we suggest to students that
6. Complex and conflicting lived experiences can be simplified to solutions
7. These solutions can be identified by outsiders ... by students (who are essentially coerced into the role of becoming observers of the observations of an institutional observer of the lived experience.)
It is Sponge Bob and Patrick all over again
"You mean to say they've taken what we thought we think and made us think we thought our thoughts we've been thinking our thoughts we think we thought... You think?"
And it is not as if any of this is remediable by dealing with the different authority structures in PBL and letting students identify and craft the issues and problems they find in a lived experience
We still have the issue that learning through PBL means that student learning is happening in a context that assumes life is a problem to be solved
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Soren Kierkegaard
8. PBL reinforces the assumption that life is a problem to be solved
For Pita Sharples argument in Speech: Boys in Education Conference – Wednesday 19 April, 2006* in
New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, Volume 3, Issue 1, 3-11, 2006...
If we construct boys as a group of people who lack equality, resources, opportunity, expectations, confidence, talents, achievement, communication skills, literacy skills, support, attention we are forever restricting the discussion to one around negativity, a discourse of disadvantage.
... could be just as easily made for schools whose students predominantly learn through pedagogies of problem based learning
If we allow [those in authority to construct through PBL scenarios the lived experiences of others as experiences] that lack equality, resources, opportunity, expectations, confidence, talents, achievement, communication skills, literacy skills, support, attention we are forever restricting the discussion to one around negativity, a discourse of disadvantage.
All of which makes me want to ask
How can students learn in school that life is a reality to be experienced?