About PBL


This Network is for those interested in and currently practicing Problem Based Learning (PBL) and small group learning (SGL) at UBC. More broadly, we explore learning through the use of cases, scenarios, small group work, and related formats. The Network was established in November 2001. As of July 2010, the Network has 315 members representing a large variety of disciplines. We aim to promote collaboration among individuals and groups across UBC through meetings, which take place 2-3 times per year. We also design seminars and organize resources based on your needs and interests. The Network is co-chaired by Judy Chan, the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, and Lalji Halai, Medicine.

If you'd like to join the network, check out our next few meetings.

We welcome suggestions and comments. Please email Judy Chan to receive updates and to discuss what you'd like to see on these pages.

PBL Network Co-Chair and Revolving Co-Chair:

Lalji Halai worked as a general practitioner and hospital manager in Nairobi, Kenya for over 5 years, and is currently working towards his medical licensure to practice medicine in Canada. With the support of the MOSAIC organization, Lalji found and coordinates a successful learning community, consisting of international medical graduates also working towards licensure.

Past Revolving Co-Chairs:

Revolving Co-Chair:

For anywhere from 12-24 months (negotiable), a member of the PBL Network from a faculty or unit at UBC will be co-chair. They will play an important role in the development and planning of upcoming Network events and resources, especially as these might assist their faculty or unit in the use of problems and cases to enhance learning. For example, the co-chair may work on a special project within their faculty or unit that is also of interest and use to the Network.

What does the Network get out of this partnership? Fresh ideas and perspectives to make the Network's activities the most relevant they can be, and another way to showcase the successes of using problems and cases across the University.

What does the co-chair get? A chance to connect their current work in course and program development (at the individual, departmental, faculty, or unit-wide level) to the broader University community, and an opportunity to share strategies and resources, or get feedback on your current use of PBL problems and cases. An honorarium will be paid to the co-chair in order to attend a teaching and learning-related conference, purchase materials helpful to a course or program, or hire a student to assist in their work on the use of problems and cases.

Judy Chan will remain as the Network co-chair, and will work closely with colleagues from a variety of Faculties in this, a new model "whose time has come."

If you are interested in becoming a revolving co-chair sometime in the future, please contact Judy Chan.


Background Information

In 1915, John Dewey, an educational theorist argued that "…education is not an affair of 'telling' and being told, but an active and constructive process" that requires "direct and continuous occupations with things." Further, for these occupations (or experiences) to be educational, they required reflection to transform them into knowledge (Dunne and Brooks, 2004).

Taxonomy of Significant Learning: Kinds of Knowledge (Fink, 2003)

Blooms taxonomy.jpg

Higher order thinking skills Good problems and cases should challenge students to achieve higher-level critical thinking. Too often, students view learning as remembering facts, terms, and definitions in order to answer questions on tests. Many students seem to lack the ability or motivation to go beyond factual material to a deeper understanding of course material. In Bloom's Taxonomy, cognitive levels along with parallel student activities are arranged from lower (simple - 1, 2) to complex (higher - 5, 6). Problems and cases should strive to induce students to learn at the higher levels.


General Resources:

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is a form of instruction that involves learners working together to accomplish a common goal (Felder and Brent, 1994). It incorporates collaboration as a philosophy of interaction, where learners are responsible for their learning actions, and respect the abilities and contributions of their peers (Panitz). A related technique is Cooperative Learning (Johnson, Johnson and Holubec, 1994). They describe conditions for it to occur:


Learning in Groups

The Tuckman Model of Group/Organization Formation

Bruce W Tuckman is an educational psychologist who first described the four stages of group development in 1965. Tuckman described the four distinct stages that a group can elicit as it comes together and starts to operate. The process can be subconscious, although an understanding of the stages can help a group reach effectiveness more quickly and less painfully.

The four stages are: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing

In a group environment, students learn how to achieve their education goals by setting expectations, group ground rules, and/or learning contracts.


More Resources:

The Learning Contract.

Team-based Learning

Team-based learning is a powerful instructional strategy that brings together student responsibility for learning basic course concepts, readiness assessment procedures that provide rich and rapid feedback for both individuals and teams, and opportunities for student teams to apply course concepts to problem solving assignments.

The readiness assessment process allows instructors to focus classroom sessions on the application and analysis of course concepts, rather than the delivery of course content. The readiness assurance process consists of:

  1. Assigned readings - Exposes students to essential course concepts.
  2. Individual testing.
  3. Team testing - Same evaluation instrument as individual test. During team tests students orally elaborate their understanding, defend, strengthen, or adjust their schemata related to key course concepts.
  4. Team feedback - Team reflection and discussion of troublesome concepts identified in results of team tests.
  5. Instructor feedback - Opportunity to address misconceptions and troublesome concepts.

Two features distinguish team-based learning from other forms of teaching with small groups and make it an especially powerful form of teaching and learning: (TBL Homepage) "TEAMS" are distinct from and more powerful than "GROUPS"

Course Examples:

Contact: Jim Sibley

These courses, which take place in fixed-seating, tiered lecture theatres, have enrollments of 115 students. Jim reports that the first year of using TBL had great results, with students dispersing and collecting their team folder of Scantron (bubble sheet) forms during class time, and working to complete them (for the readiness assessment procedures) with great energy.

Instructor: Karla Kubitz

Excerpt from course assignment:

The purpose of the assignment is to provide you with the opportunity to integrate and apply what you have learned about the group/environment-related tools (i.e., the theories, models, etc. in chapters 5-10) in the sport psychology toolbox. There will be four parts to this assignment.

  1. Integrative Individual Assignment
  2. Integrative Team Assignment
  3. Peer-evaluation
  4. Self-evaluation (the Team Self-evaluation and the individual One Minute Paper).

Contact: Dr. Brent MacLaine

Brent has kindly offered an overview of how he got started, what he does in his courses, and other related material:

Preamble—a personal note:

In the fall of 1994, I attended a UPEI Faculty Development workshop given by Professor Larry Michaelsen from the University of Oklahoma. Michaelsen's description of "team-based learning" proved to be a significant pedagogical marker for my career as a university professor. Although I was initially very skeptical about some features of this approach to classroom learning (indeed, Michaelsen noted that, in his experience, literature professors were the most resistant), I was tempted enough to experiment with his innovations. At the eleventh hour, I completely revised two of the three courses that I was to teach the next week (the third was a writing course, which is problematic to design using team-based learning). I do not regret my decision. As a result of those changes, I can say — without undue complacency, I hope — that I have never been happier with the performance of students in my classrooms.

What follows is a description of team-based learning as I use it in my non-writing and non-seminar courses. I have departed from Michaelsen's methodology on several key issues, particularly in the use of pre-tests (see CRIT's below), but the principles remain essentially the same.


Team-based learning — which should not be confused with team teaching — is a carefully managed pedagogical system that relies on small permanent classroom groups. It maximizes the helping and co-operative behaviour of individual students and directs that behaviour towards specific learning goals. Team-based learning is central to the entire course design and goes beyond the conventional and occasional use of randomly selected groups for class discussion.



CRITs (Critical Reading and Issues Tests) are pre-tests given before lectures on or discussion of major reading assignments. For example, one or more chapters of a text, a novel, a play, a series of poems, a number of scholarly articles, or a work of criticism. These tests are a cornerstone of the team-based learning classroom. They not only ensure that students are well prepared; they also signal important ideas for discussion and encourage analytical thinking. It is important that CRITs not be simply "reading tests"; rather, they must be carefully designed questions that focus the student's and the team's attention on central critical issue of each reading assignment. CRITs are not designed to test recall or detail; they are designed to test close, analytical reading, an essential skill for most academic work.

In the class before any lecture on or discussion of a literary work, teams are given about five minutes to share their reactions to and impressions of the work that they have read. Each team is then given a folder with a CRIT test (15 multiple choice questions) and answer sheets. The students take the test individually. They then put their answer sheets in the folder and take the same test again as a team, generating a "team" answer on a separate sheet. It is at this point that significant discussion of issues begins. Normally students will share their reasons for answering as they did on the individual test and will negotiate with other members of the team to arrive at the best response. If the test is designed well, team scores will always be higher than individual scores.


Once all of the individual and team tests have been completed, they are put into the folder and exchanged with other teams in the class. Tests are then marked by the students anonymously and recorded on the back of the folder.


A very important part of the process, appeals ensure flexibility and fairness in the pre-tests. Students must feel that they have recourse if they think that the tests have been unfair in any way — and sometimes they are. Thus, if a team feels that they have good reasons for answering a question as they did, they can document their reasons, provide good evidence, and ask for the "wrong" answer to be reviewed. Appeals are frequently successful. This process provides further opportunity for extending and fine-tuning the discussion and analysis of a particular critical issue.

Test Design

Humanities professors, in particular, may be resistant to this approach partly because they feel it emphasizes multiple choice testing which, they fear, does not do justice to the discipline. Such a fear is unfounded for two reasons:

  1. Testing is only a small part of the team learning process, and
  2. Multiple choice questions can test higher level critical thinking content.

Nevertheless, test questions must be designed carefully.

In this regard, Victoria L. Clegg and William E. Cashin provide excellent help in their publication "Improving Multiple-Choice Tests" (Idea Paper No. 16, September 1986; Centre for Faculty Evaluation and Development, Kansas State University).

Team Assignments and Activities

Because the teams are permanent, it is very convenient to use them for brief classroom activities, other graded assignments, or projects. As well, during a lecture, the teams can be asked, for example, to discuss a pertinent question and provide a quick record of responses. In other words, having cohesive teams in place adds considerable flexibility to classroom management.

Benefits of Team–Based Learning

In my experience—over 165 teams since September 1994—team learning improves the productivity and learning atmosphere of the classroom on a number of counts:


More Resources (thanks to Brent MacLaine for his contributions to this list):

Case-based Learning

In case-based learning, students are given a realistic statement, scenario, and/or case relevant to the course. Students often apply what they learned from previous courses or their current courses to work through the case.

Excerpted from Dunne and Brooks (1994):

Origins of the Case Method:

Harvard Law School - 1870

Harvard Business School - 1908

Perceived benefits at the time:

More Resources:

Course Examples:

Instructor: Marion Clauson

Excerpt from an in-class assignment:

Perinatal Loss – Worksheet

Maria Lewis, a primipara is admitted to your postpartum unit after delivering a stillborn baby boy at 38 weeks, due to a true knot in the cord. Maria and her husband, John are very distraught and they can’t believe this is happening to them.

Part 1

  1. What is unique or different about loss during the perinatal period as compared to loss during other life crises
  2. Can you think of differences in how Maria and John would react if this had been an early pregnancy loss (i.e., miscarriage)?

This course uses case studies to model interview and cultural history techniques.

Learning through Scenarios and Role Plays

Course Examples:

Human Kinetics 461 and 471: Prevention of Sports Injuries Instructors: Rob Lloyd-Smith and Jack Taunton

This course came to our attention from a student taking it who spoke of how real-life it was. Pairs of students have unique cases, which are actual cases at the Sports Medicine Clinic at UBC, including full charts on the patients. One example is "Achilles Tendonitis in 48-year old male basketball player."

Students then come to meet with the sports medicine doctors who are instructing the course. With student taking on the role of the doctor, and doctor taking on the role of patient, the student asks questions and makes notes on how to proceed. They then discuss the case and how the student might proceed if they were treating the patient for real.

Students, in pairs, then write up the case, following guidelines for the profession, and lead a joint presentation with Student 1 responsible for: Abstract, Introduction, Case Study, Investigation, Diagnosis, References and Student 2 responsible for: Discussion, Prevention, Conclusion. The paper is worth 30%, the joint case presentation work 20% and a final examination is worth 50% of the course grade.

Courses from the Okanagan University College:

Instructor: Michelle Nicholson, Business Administration

Michelle uses a simulated set of actual client files to teach accounting software.

Instructor: Kerry Rempel, Business Administration

Efficiency and effectiveness assignment.

Active and Experiential Learning

More Resources:

Tutor-dedicated Problem-based Learning

What is PBL?

Medical educators at McMaster University pioneered, or reinvented, problem-based learning, in about 1969. Also called problem-stimulated learning, PBL has been defined as:

"A learning method based on the principle of using problems as a starting point for the acquisition and integration of new knowledge." H. S. Barrows, 1982.

PBL is a learning environment in which the problem drives the learning. That is, before students learn some knowledge they are given a problem. The problem is posed so that the students discover that they need to learn some new knowledge before they can solve the problem.

Posing the problem before learning tends to motivate students. They know why they are learning the new knowledge. Learning in the context of the need-to-solve-a-problem also tends to store the knowledge in memory patterns that facilitate later recall for solving problems.

PBL utilizes student groups, but each group member is also responsible for independent research. Further, instructor scaffolding is considerably less direct in problem-based learning than in other constructivist models such as anchored instruction. Students are allowed to struggle and induct their own mental model of course concepts with only occasional "life-lines" from the instructor when concept processing falls off-track. Problem-based learning is most similar to case-based instruction, but in its purest form, PBL is more open-ended.

In PBL, students are confronted with an ill-structured problem that mirrors real-world problems. Well chosen problems encourage students to define problems, identify what information is needed, and engage in solution generation and decision making. In PBL, the self-directed study occurs in small groups of 6-8 students with the aid of a facilitator, or tutor. It is the tutor's role to guide the students through the problems, and to provide them with ongoing formative evaluation.

Although PBL uses tutorial groups, the learning is essentially an individual process, and each person is responsible for the acquisition of knowledge. The tutorial is where learning issues are developed and information is shared, discussed, and integrated back into the problem. In addition, it is a place where clarification of concepts can occur, as well as a place to share useful resources. Each individual is responsible for his/her own learning, and for making sure the tutorial meets his/her own needs.

More Resources:

Faculty of Medicine, UBC

Educational and Counseling Psychology, and Special Education, UBC

Special Topics

Learning through Inquiry

Learning through inquiry is based on a self-directed, question-driven search for understanding. An absolutely essential feature of this conception of inquiry is the explicit formation of a set of questions that provide a framework for research. Inquiry can be carried out by students working as individuals or in small groups. The approach can be the format for an entire course or for just part of a course.

The principal steps of inquiry are:

  1. The student explores a subject or theme and chooses a focus for the research;
  2. A central research question for inquiry is formulated;
  3. The student develops a plan of research, based on critical questioning and the attempt to anticipate findings; and
  4. These research findings are brought to bear on the central question.

The above excerpt is from Hudspith, B., and Jenkins, H. (2001) STLHE Green Guide N0 3. Teaching the Art of Inquiry. Halifax, Canada: The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Course Examples:

More Resources:

A list of resources on inquiry learning can be found here. Information ranges from general broad definition of inquiry-based learning to specific topics such as group formation, problem writing, and examples in specific fields.

Project-based Learning

Students participate in projects and, whatever the discipline of the course, they often practice an interdisciplinary array of skills from such fields as math, language, fine arts, science, and technology for process and/or content.

More Resources:

Course Examples:

Instructor: Michelle Nicholson, Business Administration, Okanagan University College

Michelle uses a case style term project to ensure that students apply the skills they have learned using a textbook.

Instructor: Iain Cameron, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Okanagan University College

Students work in teams to carry out design projects.

Instructor: Yan Guo, University of Calgary

Students integrate language, content, and skills through projects.

Guided Design

Guided design involves active learning and sustained participation in small groups. Students are explicitly led through steps to solve problems and reach logical decisions. The process is an active one requiring student participation and involvement at each step. Problems, often real world situations, may be solved during scheduled class times. Small-group work occurs in the presence of the instructor, who provides feedback and encouragement as students proceed through each step of the thinking process.

More Resources:

Other Real-life Connections: Theory & Practice, Current Events, Community Service Learning

Community Service Learning is a method under which students learn and develop through thoughtfully organized service that:

More Resources:

Course Example:

Instructor: Alice Cassidy

Course Aims: Through this course, I hope to give you an opportunity to learn more about, and gain a greater appreciation of our natural world and the many ways that humans play a part in it. The course is framed around basic concepts of ecology, such as ecosystems, biodiversity, and cycles in nature. We also focus on basic science skills, such as field observations and inquiry-based learning, that are also useful in other disciplines! We'll study current events and issues, both local and global. A group project will include community service, whereby your actions and knowledge can make a real difference. Much of the course content will come out of what you are interested in. You are invited to consider how ecology ties in to your daily life, and to make connections between ecology and other disciplines.

Final Thought

A thought to leave you with.

It has been said that:

67% of our students learn best actively, yet many lectures are passive

69% of our students are visual, yet we often choose primarily verbal material

28% of our students think globally, so we can help them with more on the 'big picture'


Other Resources and Discipline-specific Ideas:


Flexible Delivery Initiatives, the University of Queensland

Professor Lesley Jolly describes the use of problem-based learning in the cultural anthropology class.


Case Examples in Biology

An introduction on problem-based learning and 20 case examples in biology can be found here.

Case Studies in Science (Plant Science), State University of New York at Buffalo Click to “Plant Science” for five cases in plant sciences.

HIV 2001, the University of Arizona

This is a case on the spread of HIV. A stimulated “web lab” is available to assist learning.

Business Administration, Case Studies

European Case Clearing House

Business cases developed by the Cranfield School of Management, the London Business School, Harvard, University of Western Ontario, and University of Virginia can be browsed here. Online inspection copies are available once registered.

Harvard Business, Case Method Teaching: Articles on case-based teaching and over 7,500 cases on a variety of topics (Accounting, Finance, Human Resources Management, etc) are available for US$6.50 each.

Darden Business Publishing, University of Virginia. Cases are available for US$3.29 each.

Education, Instructional Technology and Design, Case Studies

University of Virginia: Three completed cases on instructional design are available online.


Case Studies in Science, State University of New York at Buffalo: Click to ‘Psychology” for 10 sample cases in psychology.

Social Work, Introductory Course

Social Policy and Social Work, Higher Education Academy: Case studies on social policy and links to Social Work Programs using problems and cases in their core curricula can be found here.

Problem-based Learning

What is PBL? How to Set-up? Barriers? Limitations?

California State University: Follow the links in this page and you will find answers to many commonly asked questions related to PBL. Lists of references are also available.

PBL in Curriculum Development

Problem-based Learning, Samford University: This site provides a few tips on what to expect and what not to expect while incorporating PBL in the curriculum. Links to two excellent PDF articles on putting PBL into practice are available here.

Problem-based Learning, De Montfort University: A short and concise article on what PBL is. Tips on how to incorporate a “good" PBL into existing curriculum and course design.

Developing PBL

A Self-checklist, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center. A short list for planning and conducting PBL.

Dealing with Resistant Learners

Pike, B., and Arch, D. (1997). Dealing with Difficult Participants: 127 Practical Suggestions for Minimizing Resistance and Maximizing Results in Your Presentation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Classroom Management Suggestions, Yale University


November 2001 (pdf). A summary of PBL status at UBC with input from Faculties of Dentistry, Land and Food Systems, Medicine, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Science.

November 2004 (pdf). One day, a PBL Network member came to us and asked about the effectiveness of the feedback component in PBL. We later realized that the feedback component of PBL has received little attention and different people used feedback differently. We decided to interview members of the UBC PBL Network to find out differences among different PBL instructors.

Hard Copy Package

Packages of paper-based resources and articles are available in the CTLT Resource Room. Members of the UBC teaching and learning community are welcome to browse through the packages.

Paper-based content:

Paper-based content also available electronically:

The Uses of Problems and Cases in the Humanities and Social Sciences

PBL is used in Humanities and Social Sciences courses around the world! We chose a few articles to showcase the uses of problems and cases in the teaching and learning of Humanities and Social Sciences. We also list a few great web resources where you will find lots of information and examples on the uses of PBL in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Resources for Students

ON Canada ISBN 0-9698725-0-X. Index and bibliography. 7"x9" paper, 170 pp. Available at: UBC OKANAGAN LIBRARY stacks. Call Number: LB2395 .W66 1994.

Institutions That Use PBL

Web Resources

PBL is used in Humanities and Social Sciences courses around the world!
Groups of educators had put information and course samples on the world wide web.


PBL is used in Humanities and Social Sciences courses around the world!
We chose a few articles to showcase the uses of problems and cases in the teaching and learning of humanities and social sciences.

PBL in the Humanities - Selected Articles:

Using Problems and Cases

Problem-based Learning is now being used in a wide variety of Faculties at UBC. This is a partial list. If you know of a course that is using PBL and is not listed below, please contact Judy Chan.

Land and Food Systems

Course Syllabus:


UBC Events

Upcoming Network Activities
We have meetings 2 to 3 times a year. If there is a topic you would like to hear about, please let me know by e-mailing Judy Chan.

Ongoing Network Activities

PBL Sessions-in-Action

Have you heard, read, and talked about PBL, but still don't know how it works? Are you currently using PBL and would like to learn more from other PBL instructors? You are welcome to visit some actual PBL sessions on campus. A number of Network members are willing to host guest visitors in their PBL sessions. Courses available for visits in the past have included:

Course availability for visits changes all the time. Please e-mail us for a current list of available courses, with the dates and times of the sessions.

Difficult Incidents and Tutor Interventions in PBL Tutorials

Pawel M. Kindler, Instructor, Cellular and Physiological Sciences

Troublesome situations in PBL affect group dynamics and learning. Yet, they have received limited attention in medical education research and have been investigated largely from students' point of view. Recently, we conducted a study in which a group of experienced PBL tutors recognized as superior facilitators was asked to identify difficult incidents, describe interventions used in response to them and assess the success of each intervention. Overall, it was concluded that: (1) Even experienced and highly rated tutors encounter difficult incidents in their PBL tutorials; (2) Tutors use a very limited repertoire of interventions; and (3) Tutor interventions are much more common but less successful in addressing difficult incidents than those initiated by the group or individual students.

This presentation will include a brief summary of the above study followed by a facilitated discussion in which the participants will be invited to share their views on the potential impact of the results on their own practice.

Application of Principles of Adult Learning Theory using Problem Based Learning

Chuck Shuler, Dean, Dentistry

Adult Learning Theory has identified several principles that optimize the educational experience of adult learners. Students in health professional education are adults and consequently it would be anticipated that learning outcomes would be improved if the pedagogy used in the curriculum was based on well-established principles. Knowles has contributed a well-recognized body literature on the "Adult Learner" and these principles were further supported in the review of educational publications in "How People Learn". In all these publications it has been shown that adults need to understand the Relevance/Context of a topic prior to the generation of the Motivation and Engagement necessary to achieve a deep level of learning. This commitment to learning leads to the Activation of Prior Knowledge, Knowledge Organization and Metacognition that are characteristics of effective learning environments. These principles of adult learning are most effectively addressed when the learner is in an environment that is learner-centered, inquiry-based and cooperative. Problem Based Learning is a pedagogy that is structured to provide a learning environment that is optimized for an adult learner. The analysis of the signs and symptoms of clinical cases that simulate future health professional practice directly demonstrates the relevance of the topics investigated thus motivating and engaging the learner. Working in small groups with a faculty facilitator focuses the curriculum on the learner and provides a structure that encourages asking questions and the development of a process for investigating problems that models future professional practice. The environment challenges the learners to test their level of understanding of specific curricular content through application to specific patient problems and with this application the learner continually reflects on their level of knowledge and what additional information is required to better understand a patient's problem. The process of learning, the content mastered and the approach to analyzing a patient are all integrated in both the curriculum and the pedagogy. Problem Based Learning represents a pedagogy based on adult learning principles that enables the learner to begin to demonstrate health professional practices from the very beginning of their educational program.

<a href="#top">Back to Top</a>

Case-Based Learning Distributed over the World Wide Web: Creating Online Learning Communities

Dr. Niamh Kelly, Associate Professor, Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

‘Human Bacterial Infections’ (PATH417) is a case-based online learning course delivered at UBC as an upper level science course. The learning occurs when students, working first on their own and then in groups, are directed to acquire content by working through case scenarios. Understanding of this content is pushed to deeper levels through the use of small group learning with peer feedback, instructor feedback, and, the use of e-portfolios. Using the online course as a framework, Niamh will demonstrate how this course allows for individual, peer, and instructor facilitated learning.

Niamh is an accomplished research scientist whose interests, and time, are now centered entirely on education, with a particular interest in educational delivery methods. She is currently involved in the distribution of the UBC’s undergraduate medical program across three campuses, namely, UBC, the University of Victoria and the University of Northern British Columbia. She has initiated programs, and collaborates with faculty members in, the Faculties of Medicine, Science, Education, and in Continuing Studies.

PBL Lunch: Reflecting on Writing Cases

Leandra Best, Co-Chair of the UBC PBL Network, Dentisty, UBC

Leandra Best will kick-off the meeting with her experience in reviewing cases in Dentistry. We will then break into small groups and share our case writing challenges and successes with Network members.

Assessment of Learning in PBL: Perspectives from two institutions

Ranga Venkatachary, Business Administration, Simon Fraser University Niamh Kelly, Pathology, UBC

This seminar builds on our discussions during the seminar ‘Orienting Learners to Problem-based Learning (PBL): PBL network meeting’ led by Niamh Kelly in mid-January. Problem-based Learning views learning as a performance. In order to be authentic and reliable, assessment of such learning must be situated within the scope of the given performance and must be done against multiple evaluative criteria. In other words, the curriculum, the learning and assessment need to be aligned. Join us to examine and discuss different ways of achieving such alignment.

The concept of holistic assessment in PBL will be demonstrated through a description of a pure PBL implementation (‘one day one problem’ approach) and the assessment scheme at the Republic Polytechnic, Singapore. This is characterized by division of a given curriculum into 16 PBL problems. A module is transacted in a semester and a semester comprises 16 weeks of contact study time. In effect, students work in teams on a given PBL problem for the span of a whole day (8 hours approximately). Each PBL problem carries a set of learning outcomes, a context for learning activities and exploration (articulated in the problem statement) and scope for assessment.

Assessment of student learning in this setting takes place at two levels – each student is given a grade daily based on the facilitator’s judgment of the quality of learning in the classroom within the scope of a given PBL problem. The daily grade is accompanied by diagnostic feedback and the facilitator’s decision on a student’s deserved grade is gleaned from and supported by evidence collected through a variety of channels:

Using an analysis of a small pool of data, we will have a case discussion focusing on key questions such as

The implementation of assessment at the Undergraduate Medical Program at UBC will be explored next (building on the mid-January session) and we will end the session with discussion about the two institutions’ approaches.

Niamh Kelly is a Medical Microbiologist in the Department of Pathology with a keen interest in education. She has tutored PBL extensively in the medical school and directs an undergraduate science course over the Web wherein students learn through case-based learning. She is currently a part of the Faculty of Medicine team involved in distributing UBC's medical program to the Universities of Victoria and Prince George.

Lunch and Learn with Dr. Henk Schmidt, Eminent European PBL Speaker

Prof. Henk Schmidt, Eminent European PBL Speaker, formerly of Maastricht and now of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, is coming to UBC in March! The Faculty of Dentistry is sponsoring his visit and UBC PBL Network Members will have a chance to meet him at an informal lunch meeting.

Dr. Schmidt has served as the Director of the Research Program in Problem-based Education at the University of Limburg, Maastricht, from 1979 to 1993. We anticipate that Dr. Schmidt will be ready to answer some challenging questions regarding PBL education. So, if you have one question that you would like to ask him, what would it be?

Orienting Learners to Problem-based Learning (PBL)

Niamh Kelly, Faculty of Medicine, UBC

Problem-based Learning (PBL) has been described as a teaching and learning methodology and each faculty or school employing this methodology has developed its own program to train tutors (including faculty, graduate students and others) for this form of teaching. My thesis is that although we invest considerable time and effort in training our teachers for this methodology, we invest very little time in training our learners how to engage in this form of learning. Evidence, both from our tutor evaluation of students and from students' own statements point to the fact that even after two years of PBL students may remain completely disengaged with this form of learning. The interactive nature of PBL means that the behaviour of an individual student can have a profound effect on the learning of other students in their group. The question as to how to properly train our students for this form of learning is an important one to answer as the number of courses employing PBL increases, both on our own campus and elsewhere. This session will be divided into three parts: (i) a discussion of the thesis; (ii) presentation of preliminary results from current research around this thesis; and (iii) a brainstorming session exploring methodologies for orienting our learners to PBL. A light lunch will be served. Everyone is welcome at this meeting of the PBL Network.

PBL and Its Cognitive Principles

Jerome Rotgans, Centre for Educational Development of Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

Jerome started his presentation by briefly reflecting on the underlying concept of PBL from a cognitive, motivational , and social perspective. Examples taken from everyday life and research were presented. Jerome also provided some insights in how Republic Polytechnic approached PBL and their findings so-far.

Rediscovering New PossiBiLities in Science Teaching and Learning: Project LeAP

Problem-Based Learning in Physics & Astronomy Sarah Symons, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, United Kingdom

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) has gained much interest as a teaching and learning tool in sciences. Project LeAP (Problem-Based Learning in Astronomy and Physics) is a three-year project funded by the British government to develop and extend PBL and increase the profile of PBL in university Physics and Astronomy courses. The University of Leicester heads the project consortium, with the Universities of Hertfordshire, Reading, and Sheffield as partners.

Dr. Sarah Symons is the Project Manager of LeAP. In her talk, Dr. Symons will describe scopes of the Project and issues involved in the development and implementation of PBL in sciences.

The CARE and FEEDING of PBL (Problem-based Learning) and SGL (Small Group Learning): For Students, Tutors, Programs

Alice Cassidy, Co-Chair of the UBC PBL Network, TAG, UBC Leandra Best, Co-Chair of the UBC PBL Network, Dentisty, UBC

Dr. Leandra Best started the workshop by providing a brief overview of the current status of the use of PBL in Dentistry. Working in small groups, participants from different faculties discussed and explored current practices and challenges of the following areas:

UBC Problem-based Learning (PBL) Network Meeting

Alice Cassidy, Co-Chair of the UBC PBL Network, TAG, UBC Leandra Best, Co-Chair of the UBC PBL Network, Dentisty, UBC

Hear of successes, challenges and/or interests in the use of problems and cases in teaching and learning from attending Network members. Groups will then discuss ways to support the challenges and interests raised, such as through workshops, other forms of meetings, updates to Network-produced documents, or other resources.

Cooperative Learning through Cases: Examples from Nursing

Marion Clauson, Senior Instructor, School of Nursing

As nursing is a practice profession, students learn to apply knowledge and skills to real client cases on a daily basis. Using cooperative learning strategies with cases in nursing courses can be a way to situate learning in real life situations and actively engage learners. Come to hear about how cases are used in two nursing courses, Nursing 453, Leadership and Management in Health Care, and Nursing 410, Exploring Avenues of Nursing Practice, which has a clinical practice component in an area of the student's choice.

The Uses of Scenarios and Cases in Sports Medicine

Rob Lloyd-Smith and Dr. Jack Taunton, Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre Ashley Baker and Graeme Poole, graduates of the course

Human Kinetics 461 and 471: Prevention of Sports Injuries This course came to our attention from a student taking it who spoke of how real-life it was. For a portion of the course, students, who are previously given some aspects of a medical case (involving a patient exhibiting symptoms of an injury) then come to meet with the sports medicine doctors who are instructing the course. They discussed the case and how the student might proceed if they were treating the patient for real.

Case Writing Workshop

Alice Cassidy, co-Facilitators, TAG Ingrid Price, co-Facilitators, TAG

Practices to Support Quality Tutoring

Alice Cassidy and Ingrid Price, co-Facilitators, TAG Peter Jolliffe, Agricultural Sciences Joanne Walton, Dentistry

Hear from colleagues across the disciplines about current practices and/or plans to support quality tutoring. Following these informal 'snapshot' descriptions, there will be time to ask questions, provide feedback and discuss our own related experiences and ideas. First, Peter Jolliffe will tell us about experiences in Agricultural Sciences related to the care and feeding of PBL tutors, including how they respond to support, training and feedback. This Faculty has started to train undergraduates to be PBL tutors. Second, Joanne Walton will muse on some ideas to re-invigorate tutor-training in Dentistry, including utilizing their new cohort of part-time Dentistry faculty (called clinician educators) to take on a role in developing and supporting good tutoring practices. Next, Ingrid Price, who is coordinating a tutor-devoted PBL course in Pharmaceutical Sciences and cannot be in the room with the tutors at all times, will outline the following strategies she plans to implement:

  1. Video tape a tutorial session and have the tutor and Ingrid view this video (or parts of it) together - she would give feedback and discuss any challenges the tutors might have encountered
  2. Have tutors visit each others' tutorials and give peer feedback
  3. Have tutors self-reflect on a regular basis re: their strengths and areas for improvement, as well as set some specific goals around things that they will try to enhance their skills.
  4. Finally, a challenge that continues to be common across several Faculties is how to provide enough tutors. Posing this question to the group, we will aim to generate a list of actual and suggested solutions.

PBL On-line

Brian Hall, Agricultural Sciences

In this session we discussed the process that Brian Hall has employed for running PBL on line and the challenges and advantages that are associated with this format.

Proactive Strategies for Managing Group Dynamics

Carol-Ann Courneya, Medicine

Join Carol-Ann for an interactive session where you will be introduced to a tool for involving your PBL students in developing skills and strategies for handling difficult group dynamic situations which arise in PBL tutorials.

PBL in a Large Classroom Setting

Ingrid Price and Alice Cassidy, co-Facilitators, TAG

Campus wide Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Network: Mission Possible

Alice Cassidy and Ingrid Price, co-Facilitators, TAG

Case Title: Campus wide Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Network: Mission Possible

Context: You are interested in, and/or are currently practising PBL at UBC. You and your colleagues may be currently involved in some in-house PBL activities. At the same time, you would value the opportunity to share ideas and resources, to discuss approaches and to work collaboratively on activities with people from a variety of disciplines at UBC. You have just received the following case from TAG

Problem Statement: More and more people at UBC are getting involved in PBL. Currently, a variety of PBL initiatives are taking place across campus. We are looking for ways for PBL folks to meet each other, collaborate, and further support the development and practice of PBL at UBC. You are invited to be part of a UBC PBL Network that will address these possibilities and more.

Your Mission: Attend the kickoff event in the TAG Seminar Room, on Thursday, September, 13, from 12:30-3:00pm. Enjoy lunch and meet colleagues interested in PBL from across campus. Discuss topics important to you for enhancing the development and practice of PBL at UBC. Share your ideas about how we could address these.

Progressive Disclosure: Your suggestions, requests and contributions will form the basis of an ongoing series of PBL events, discussions, workshops, or other networking activities.

Events Elsewhere


University of Delaware Three-day Workshop: Problem-Based Learning: From Ideas to Solutions through Communication Workshop Website

McMaster University Program for Faculty Development Visitors' Workshop for Non-McMaster Faculty


Colima, Mexico

The Congress PBL 2008, Congress Website

Chicago, Il., USA

American Educational Research Association - Annual Convention PBL Special Interest Group

Convention Website

Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

Symposium Website

Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú Connecting Learning to the Real World, Lima, Perú International PBL Conference 2006


Founded by the University of Delaware and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú