Author Archives: katieheronimus

Online PBL – The new standard?

Different definitions of PBL in the literature address three basic principles.  Triggering learning, PBL is not an isolated instructional technique but a holistic approach, and finally PBL is student-centered.  These three approaches trigger prior knowledge and have meaningful content, research and organized information.  Schmidt (1993) maintains that PBL is based on information processing theory, in which learning requires learners to participate actively in the process of retrieving, constructing and using information and then relating it to their prior knowledge.  Norman and Schmidt (2000) explain PBL through a constructivist approach where information is acquired and general principles are learnt during problem solving practices to be used for similar future problems.  Hoffman and Richie (1997) consider PBL as a student-centered strategy that has significant contextualized, real-world, ill-structured situations while providing resources, guidance, instruction and opportunities for learners to develop content knowledge and problem solving skills.

PBL activities are designed in a way that is possible for instructors to offer guidance in developing problem solving and critical thinking skills.  Ill-structured problems are similar to those that students will encounter in real life situations.  By providing these situations to students you are sparking their critical thinking skills.  PBL is shown to positively influence learning outcomes as well as the learners higher order thinking skills.  Research has shown that students who learn in PBL settings have higher levels of achievement.

Because the education trends have moved from the traditional classroom setting to using more of a distance learning setting, PBL has to transition as well.  Online learning environments are flexible, attractive and interactive, it is more convenient to implement constructivist and PBL practices through online learning environments.  Online PBL applications should support access to information and collaborative learning and sustain interaction among learners.  It is also suggested though that before an instructor decides to implement the PBL method in their online course, that the course be appropriately structured with logical timeframes or the method becomes cumbersome.  Overall PBL is an excellent instructional methodology and when used correctly is extremely effective and beneficial for the students and their academic success.

Gibson and Gibson (1995) describe an alternative approach in which a learner is engaged with a problem individually and prepares a written analysis of the problem, in preparation for group interaction.  The PBL Instructional Model includes five phases

  • Presentation Phase – where the learner is situated in the problem context and to begin the process of activating relevant prior knowledge.
  • Exploration Phase – provides opportunity for recall and reconfiguration of prior knowledge relevant to the specific problem and exploration of additional, content specific knowledge and experience gained during problem solution.
  • Integration Phase – emphasizes relevant knowledge transfer, analysis, integration, synthesis and evaluation of selected, content specific knowledge and problem based experience.
  • Solution Phase – encourages learners to further integrate knowledge experience and artifacts gathered through the problem solving process into their cognitive structures as through products of real experiences
  • Reflection Phase – learners are encouraged to conduct self-assessment of their artifacts assessing the content and organization of the learning modules according to the particular domain of technology integration

This instructional model is just one of many possible implementations of PBL.  As technologies and methodologies advance there will be future instructional design models that are even more innovative.  In a survey constructed by my group members and I we found out the following information on what students think about PBL and how they have used it in their courses.  The results were as follows –

  • 7 students took the survey.
  • 6 out of 7 online students have utilized problem-based learning in their online courses.
  • All six of those students utilized wikis and blogs for the problem-based learning.  Using email and student-created media were the next most popular tools.
  • 5 out of the 6 students agreed that wikis were the most beneficial.
  • All 7 students agreed that using problem-based learning would aid them in learning concepts in their courses.
  • All 7 students thought they would like this form of learning.
  • 6 of the 7 students thought that problem-based learning prepared them for their career fields.

Overall PBL seems to be an accepted approach to teaching “real life” problem solving skills.

References –

Malopinsky, L., Kirkley, J., Stein, R., & Duffy, T. (2000). An instructional design model for online problem based learning (pbl) environments: The learning to teach with technology studio. National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 2,

Sendag, S., & Odabasi, H. (2009). Effects of an online problem based learning course on content knowledge acquisition and critical thinking skills. Computers & Education, 53, 132-141.


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Studying the game: Action research in science education

Every scientist has at one time or still is a researcher at heart.  Science teachers are no different.  Most of us have been trained in our science knowledge by taking the same courses as pre-med students have.  Science is science, whether you teach it in a classroom or are using it to further build your knowledge base.  The article by John Tillotson addresses the need for science teachers to remember their roots and what they were at one point and time trained to do.  Tillotson describes teachers as being uninterested in action research because many of the topics chosen would not have direct implications with what is occurring in their real classroom.  He goes further to state that by this misconception teachers feel that they have a lower professional status as someone else who may have similar training or a similar science background, because they feel that there is nothing they can do to contribute to new instructional methodology.  Science teachers should be interested in examining their own classroom practices, putting themselves under the microscope, and gather data based on their students throughout the year and formulate their own conclusions.  Tillotson describes a 5 step action research process that most of us would find very similar to the scientific method.  This alone should bring more appeal to science teachers.  After all, most of us learn best by seeing the actual outcomes and being actively involved in coming to a conclusion.  It is also recommended that there become more collaboration between university researchers and the “grunt” teachers in the secondary field who are supposed to follow along with the research and conclusions that have been handed down to them.  More collaboration would make each party feel more invested in the outcomes.  Just with every other teacher out there, science teachers just want to provide their students with the most effective and meaningful learning experiences possible and action research can be a huge asset.  Even if our methods are slightly more “nerdy” than the average teacher, we all have our students’ best interests at heart.


Tillotson, J. (2000). Studying the game: action research in science education. Clearing House74(1), 31-34.

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Summary of “The Origins of Distance Education and its uses in the United States”

Distance education is becoming or has become an integral part of the education system in the United States.  More and more students are utilizing distance education as a means of getting an education and fulfilling their degrees.  The growth of distance education in the United States is increasing exponentially.  By 1995 colleges and universities were offering students the opportunities, to complete their degrees, using distance education instead of traditional classroom instruction.  As the different types of media available to deliver classes increases, the methods of distance education are improving.  There is also a shift in the types of students who are taking distance education classes.  Typically distance education students are part-time adult learner or students who are trying to work full-time while attending school.  As of the fall of 1998 a second student population emerged, students who are enrolled in regular classes but are supplementing their education with the distance education courses.  Information technology is going to continue to grow and evolve and therefor how colleges and universities deliver their courses will shift.  As partnerships between colleges and universities, businesses, states and countries form, distance education opportunities will continue to grow.

Even working in an educational setting at a community and technical college we rely on and utilize technology on a daily basis.  The college offers just as many classes online or via ITV as it does in a traditional face-to-face setting.  The institution is spread out over 200 square miles and traveling for meetings all the time is not necessarily feasible.  Utilizing technologies such as ITV, Adobe Connect and Webex allow us to conduct business in real time without having to leave the office.

Matthews, D. (1999). The origins of distance education and its uses in the united states. the Journal, Retrieved from

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