PBL Season 1 – What did they Learn?

This is a 5-6 minute read.

This post focuses on some of the learning that took place during the project.

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It is all very well and nice to have a component such as PBL as part of the curriculum. However, if the learners do not learn as a result then there is little point in putting time and effort into implementing and developing PBL.

So the question we need to ask is what did PBL bring to the learners? The following comments are based on data from many sources including feedback from learners in the more formal tutorial meetings and less formal chats, feedback from colleagues who also delivered PBL, observations of the learners as they completed the component…etc

This page focuses on learning English with following pages being devoted to the development of hard & soft skills and attitudes.

In order to keep this as brief as possible I will not mention all the linguistic and skill areas developed but will exemplify a few to give  a general idea of the learning that took place.

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English

As learners on an English language preparation course, developing their English in an academic context the first question to ask is “Did the learners improve their English?”

Well, I think the answer overall is yes. As with other parts of our content based syllabus, the daily use of English for a communicative purpose led to an improvement in their overall levels of English. I would suggest that PBL brought an increased need and motivation to communicate whether it be within the team; with the teacher or with the wider audiences of peers (for practice presentations); with members of the university as a whole during the conference presentations; or through the creation of blogs and websites to record their progress and reflections.

But let’s be more specific….

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Speaking and Listening

Many learners reported increased confidence in speaking in public and presentations as well as in private conversations.

The practice presentations delivered to their peers in other classes proved challenging and led to a great sense of achievement. This provided a nice foundation for the poster presentations during which the learners not only presented their information but responded to questions from their audience.

The learner’s perception of increased confidence is nice because it was the realistic and motivating need to communicate that provided the learners with the opportunity to use the language and skills they possessed, demonstrating to themselves and others the extent of their knowledge.

One learner, during her end of course feedback, also reported how the experience had given her confidence in delivering presentations in Turkish Language and Literature classes.

Several learners perceived connection between the development of the speaking and listening skills through PBL and increased confidence (and score) in their oral exams.

Whilst much of the work was conducted in groups, and the conversations may have been conducted in Turkish, we did ask for a part teams to record one conversation in English. During which they discussed their research sources, synthesising their information to identify the best ideas to answer their research question.

This was an interesting feature of the project as the learners almost universally took this element very seriously. They approached i t in a variety of ways – some recorded a spontaneous discussion whilst others prepared in detail before the recording. Whilst we can argue that those who prepared and even semi-scripted the conversation were not speaking naturally or spontaneously what was clear is that they had spent a considerable time and effort in thinking about what they wished to say, how to express it and how to structure the conversation – a lot of time thinking about using English.

Several learners chose to interview experts at the university as primary sources to help answer their research question. Again, a challenging experience and one that when completed provided a great deal of confidence when speaking in English.

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Reading

The project required each learner to identify, summarise 3 or 4 articles on their specific topics and synthesize this information with that of their team members. There are many reading skills here that were developed that I won’t even get into, in order to keep this as brief as possible.

Many learners identified an improvement in their ability to skim and scan the texts in order to identify the information relevant to their topics. These are skills they are familiar with, and one reason they were able to identify it during reflection, but PBL gave them an opportunity to use and develop these skills in realistic and purposeful situation with longer, ungraded texts.

Interestingly, several learners reported that they chose specific articles after reading abstracts or skimming several texts before choosing the most appropriate ones to address their question. Another useful and important academic skill developed through linguistic skills.

The process of summarising the texts also required careful reading of specific passages and note-taking and paraphrasing, another genuine purpose with motivating outcome.

Additionally, the project was complex with many components and stages. The learners needed to read and follow the documentation on the PBL website to complete the project. By the end of the 14 weeks the website had over 10.000 web page visits which indicated that it was used fairly extensively.

 

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Writing

The culmination of the project was the communication of the answer to the research question with the poster. The process of arriving at this stage required a variety of writing skills from note-taking to academic reverencing.

Another skill which was developed, yet not explicitly recognised by the learners, came in the synthesising of information from the texts they had read and identifying the best ideas and information to answer their research question. This process of identifying main ideas supported with explanations and examples was appropriate to the selection of information for the presentation but also mirrors the planning stages of an academic essay.

We did not ask the learners to produce and essay or report based on their research (this could be a possible future development but would need to be presented as a meaningful outcome such as a conference proceedings) yet their work paralleled this process and the also the process they undertake as part of their Long Writing Assignment in which they answer a question based on information taken from a variety of texts.

This was the part of the project that we asked the teams to record. Listening to the recordings was fantastic – not just because it was nice to hear the learners speaking in English for an

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