Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The PBL of futures past . . . ?
I quite like PBL. I got very lucky, and the members of my group work hard and all contribute well. They are all easy-going and pleasant, and our facilitator is experienced and helpful. I'm getting a LOT out of it. (N.b. over the following post, I may use the words "tutor" and "facilitator" interchangeably.)
However, a few weeks ago we experienced a trial tutor who is looking at gaining a position in the PBL program at our university. Whilst he was qualified, polite and highly intelligent, we didn't get anything out of his session, except when our regular tutor took over.
It frightened me a little, for a number of reasons. I wondered, how much would the group actually get out of PBL if we had a terrible tutor? For anybody unfamiliar with the PBL process, the tutor "facilitates" the sessions, meaning that he or she is meant to guide you through the process without actually telling you the racts involved. You are supposed to learn to think through things sytematically and logically and learn to access the information yourself and be able to present it in a clear way that shows you understand the information and how it relates to the case.
If the discussion veers off course, or if the information is blatantly wrong, the tutor is there to correct you.
One of the worst possible ways I can imagine a PBL session being run, is if the tutor turns it into a didactic teaching session, talking about all of the topics as they come up and not giving the PBL ample time or prompting to work through the logic. Apart from the fact that the tutor may potentially be incorrect (and yes, this did happen during our trial tutor's session - he disagreed with both the main tutor and one of the students who majored in the area of disagreement), it is not teaching the group how to think through things. Being able to think through things not only helps the learning process, but helps you work out why what is happening to the fictional patient is actually happening, and turns rote learning into practical knowledge.
Unfortunately I feel that most of the problems encountered by our trial tutor were caused by an insurmountable language barrier (English was not his first language), with potential cultural differences. We couldn't understand his accent (and I have a LOT of experience working and socialising with people from non-English-speaking backgrounds), and he had difficulty following us, evidenced by his asking us questions that a member of the group had just answered. I have nothing against accents of any kind, but there needs to be some level of mutual understanding for group teaching to be possible. On the bright side, we would learn to be more independant.
As bad as I felt for him, it was a huge relief when the regular tutor took over in the weeks afterwards. I don't know what the outcome was (we're not privy to that) but I sincerely hope we don't get him as our next PBL facilitator.