Communication in problem based learning

Bryant, Pauline (2018) Communication in problem based learning. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Problem Based Learning (PBL) is one of the many ways that undergraduates are supported to learn in Norwich Medical School. PBL is an instructional design model that was first introduced into medical schools in Canada in the 1960s. Theoretical arguments were put forward in the medical education literature that claimed PBL was a revolutionary, new and superior learning method. The method attracted considerable enthusiasm, but it also attracted controversy. Descriptions of the process were diverse and the pedagogy was illusive. Never the less, it subsequently spread worldwide, and thousands of medical students now learn in PBL groups.

The purpose of my research was to explore PBL at Norwich medical school and to find ways to improve it. My focus was on communication in PBL tutorials, and the aim was to identify communicative elements that realised and hindered effective dialogue.

The objectives were to

1) Consider the theoretical framework of PBL and explore enablers and barriers to effective dialogue,
2) Consider the learning environment of the PBL tutorial, particularly brainstorming, and identify ways in which to maximise the learning opportunities,
3) Determine how this knowledge can be used to facilitate effective dialogue to take place between learners in PBL.

The main research question was;

What communicative strategies can be used by tutors to enhance elaborative dialogue to take place in brainstorming in Problem Based Learning tutorials?

Using elements of Conversation Analysis (CA), I explored communication in PBL. Focusing particularly on brainstorming, I identified specific communicative elements that were used by tutors to facilitate elaborative dialogue. Elaborative dialogue, in which students explain their thinking, appears to be of particular importance in the learning and understanding of concepts. Elaboration includes;

a) Verbalising conceptual understanding,
b) Identifying conflicting information,
c) Co-construction of understanding,
d) Answering/ asking relevant questions,

It is clear that the extent to which students benefit from working in small groups depends on the quality of interaction between students within the group. I identified communicative elements that were inhibitory to elaborative dialogue. In addition, I identified that there were contextual factors that inhibited communication between students in the tutorials for example, students were expected to chair tutorials, but they struggled to perform the role.

The findings from my study are useful for PBL tutors who can use these elements of conversation analysis to examine their own practices; for example, tutors can audio record a section of a PBL tutorial, and identify their own questioning techniques that have promoted useful dialogue between learners, and reflect on their practice. This conversation analysis method can be applied to other small group teaching methods in other disciplines and by other organisations. I hope this will serve as a starting point to encourage individual tutors and institutions to explore ways to enhance communication in PBL tutorial groups and enrich the learning experiences for students.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Norwich Medical School
Depositing User: Users 9280 not found.
Date Deposited: 22 Oct 2019 08:36
Last Modified: 21 Nov 2019 13:40


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