Taking the PBL plunge

As part of my new duties as Associate Dean, I’m going to be continuing in a more hands-on role as programme director of our new Liberal Arts & Sciences degree. Modelled on the US approach, this will offer an opportunity for students to have much more flexibility in building a degree that is specifically geared to their needs and interests.

At this stage, we’re in the planning and design phase, with entry starting in 2014. That means doing both programme design and marketing activities now, so that it’s all in place for next autumn. As programme director, I will be writing up the validation documentation, coordinating various colleagues and teaching on the core modules.

These core modules will be shared by all the students, regardless of their specialisations, and offer an opportunity for students to encounter different disciplines and approaches, so developing their own understanding.

Working with our current Associate Dean, I’m looking at how we can best create an open and inclusive space for students to bring their different knowledges and practices into a discussion and debate that will allow them to contextualise and develop their abilities. Obviously, from my end, I can see a lot of overlap with the reflective elements of my current teaching, but I also want to try and explore new territory with the modules.

With that in mind, I’m seriously thinking about getting into a problem-based learning (PBL) model. PBL has the big advantage that it is fundamentally student-led, so it is better able to accommodate the variety that I anticipate finding in the classroom. Moreover, it is not prescriptive, in the sense that students find their own answers to the problems they face, and so is much more grounded and adapted to their needs.

On a more prosaic level, PBL is something that I’ve skirted around as a pedagogy for some time, and this seems like a good opportunity to get stuck in.

So it’s off to the library/e-journals to read up and see where I can take this. If you have any PBL experiences (good or bad), then I’d love to hear about them.

5 Replies to “Taking the PBL plunge”

  1. Is “liberal arts & sciences degree” a term that covers many different programs, for example, undergraduate degree programs in biology, history, and politics? Or will it be a separate program, in which students complete a degree named “liberal arts & sciences”?

    It sounds as if you’re describing what in the USA would be called an interdisciplinary core curriculum or general education requirement. Is that correct?

  2. So what we Yanks might call “liberal studies”? But I’m guessing your design will be more rigorous, since in the USA, liberal studies is usually a catch-all diploma for students who couldn’t meet the requirements for any department’s specific major. Perhaps “interdisciplinary studies” is a better analogy: http://ids.appstate.edu/.

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