Problem-Based Learning Environments


Highway 63/I-70 bypass project: determine where the state should build an alternate route to help alleviate traffic problems and accidents caused by this intersection.

Economics 175 (Microeconomics)

The Demand & Supply Learning Tool is developed to engage students in Demand and Supply Story Problem Solving that will allow them to represent real economic situations within the current economic formalisms by reducing real, relatively ill structured situations to more structured current models of problem solving in economical field.

Global Trends and World Issues

Through the Global Trends and World Issues website you will approch local, national, and international problems with an understanding of how global trends - such as demography, environmentalism, resource depletion, and the shift from an indestrial age to a knowledge era - influence policy making.

Nuclear Engineering 301 - Utilization of Nuclear Technologies in Society

The context: This course is designed primarily for sophomores and juniors interested in an introductory level course in nuclear science. It provides an introduction to applications of nuclear science and technology and the radiation principles governing these applications. The course is taught utilizing a Problem-Based Learning environment. Course topics include elemental and content analysis, material modification, radiation gauging, radiation imaging, and nuclear power systems.

The challenge: This course provides students with an introduction to nuclear technologies. For most students, this will be their first class in the field of nuclear engineering. A typical lecture-based survey course in this area would certainly encompass all of the requisite subject matter for the field; however, such a methodology does not necessarily introduce students to the multitude of academic and professional fields that are dependent on nuclear technologies outside of nuclear engineering. The course had to be designed to not only be effective for students of nuclear engineering, but also for students in the medical field, other engineering fields, and a number of others.

The solution: In order to ensure the most successful learning outcomes for students, this course has elected a problem-based learning methodology. A total of sixteen problems have been developed or are in development, collected from subject matter experts operating in the field. The problems are delivered via the course website and are designed based on the precepts of problem-based learning. The problems are germane to the material being covered in the class. The instructor will lecture on themes and walk students through much of the background material needed to solve these ill-structured problems. Students will then work through these problems in small groups.

Anthropology 149

The Context: Anthropology 149. An undergraduate class in Biological Anthropology normally enrolling 200+ students per semester. This course is an introduction to biological anthropology. The course introduces students to the place of humans in nature, how humans are similar and different from other primates, the range of biological and cultural variation in humans, and how humans evolved both morphologically and culturally. It covers a variety of topics like evolutionary theory, human genetics, cell biology, the study of human variation, and human evolution. Most students are non-majors taking the class for general requirement credit or for their natural science requirement as substitute for classes in biological science.

The Challenge: Most of the content of the class requires the study of change over time by analyzing population, genes, and genes distribution, genotypes or phenotypes. One particular area of complexity is the concept of evolution and the different evolutionary forces that change the genepool of population. Among the most difficult items to explain to students, according to two anthropology professors, is the idea of gene flow and the idea of natural selection, elements of population genetics and two examples of evolutionary forces. In short the theory says that a population in which no evolutionary forces work, tends to be in a state of equilibrium. Geneflow involves the movement of alleles (pair of genes) between at least two populations.. When gene flow occurs, the two populations mix genetically and tend to become more similar. Natural selection is a filter of genetic variation and describes which geno- and pheno-types are more likely to survive within a given set of conditions.

The Solution: We constructed influence diagrams that professors may use in lectures to explain the mechanisms of gene flow and natural selection. We also constructed simulations that students can experiment with outside of class. These simulations were created using STELLA from HPS Inc., a system modeling tool that allows to produce a simulation interface in which a variety of pre-determined variables can be changed. Through the running of simulation the variables and factors can be visually represented using behavior over time graphs. Through an additional tool the Netsim creator, it was possible to create the simulation interface on-line in a web environment, in which students can conduct their own hypothesis testing outside of classrooms.

The Rationale: Understanding gene flow and natural selection and predicting the effects of environmental forces requires that students reason causally about these phenomena. There are two approaches to supporting causal reasoning, covariational approaches and mechanistic approaches. Covariational approaches argue that repeated occurrences between cause and effect are necessary conditions for causal relationships, in other words: if event x happens always event y happens, one can speak from a causal relationship. Other researchers argue that covariation is insufficient for understanding causality, that causality should be defined in terms of the causal mechanism underlying causal relations. Mechanistic explanations link causes to effects by describing the chain of intermediary events. The influence diagrams that we developed.

The Outcome: We will be collecting data in the coming winter term (2004) in which the class will be taught. We are particularly interested in the difference of students outcome depeding if they learned with simulation or causal influence diagrams. We are interested in students' ability to reason causally depending on the cognitive tool they use and get exposed to.

Religious Studies 218 - American History of Religion Post Civil War

The context: Religious Studies 218, American History of Religion Post civil war. An undergraduate survey class normally enrolling 100+ students every Winter term. The course is the complimentary course to American History of Religion - pre-civil war, taught in the History department. The majority of the students are freshmen and sophomore in the first or second Religious Studies class. The re-design of this class provides a model for other history oriented large undergraduate classes at MU.

The challenge: For most of the students the class is their first and only class in Religious Studies. According to Religious Studies professors, it is very hard to engage students in historical reasoning and academic thinking about religion settign aside own belief systems they bring into the classrooms. Since the class covers an enormous period of time and a multitude of events, people, places, and their interconnected relationships, it is very difficult to show the complexity of the events and the muliple perspectives that make history and the story that tells multiple stories. The class having 100+ students makes it additionally hard to design activities and associated assessments that engage students in research or meaningful activities to help them make sense of the content. Most of the assessment contained tests with multiple choice and short essay questions.

The solution: We re-designed the class using a case-based teaching approach. We developed several teaching cases, collecting primary documents like eye-witness accounts, secondary documents like newspaper articles, and tertiary documents like scholarly articles and connected them to the cases. The cases are stored at a hypertext system (case library) that is available at a web-site using design principles of cognitive flexible theory. The instructor will lecture on themes and walk students through the process of historical reasoning using the cases and the different documents. The assignments and the assessment for the students changed, too: Students will be engaged in projects, researching local religious history, writing research papers, and contributing to the case library of the teaching cases.

The rationale: To engage students actively in research and projects similar to how historians do it, is a much more meaningful approach to teaching than to let students learn about history. The case-based approach exposes students to less historical events, places, and individuals, but provides more details and enriched experience of the cases. Through the careful selection of a variety of cases the students will still get not only a very complex picture of each of the cases, but also a complex picture of the religious landscape in post-civil war America.

The outcome: We will conduct research in the coming and following winter term, in which the class will be told. The study will focus on the impacts of case-based teaching in a humanities classroom and in the use of hypertext environments to foster 'learning by doing' with the students. Additionally we will investigate the relationship between students' epistemological beliefs, previous religious beliefs, and their conceptual change.