Experience of problem-based learning (PBL) in virtual space : a phenomenographical study

Gibbings, Peter (2008) Experience of problem-based learning (PBL) in virtual space : a phenomenographical study. Professional Doctorate thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis reports the outcomes of an investigation into students’ experience of Problem-based learning (PBL) in virtual space. PBL is increasingly being used in many fields including engineering education. At the same time many engineering education providers are turning to online distance education. Unfortunately there is a dearth of research into what constitutes an effective learning experience for adult learners who undertake PBL instruction through online distance education. Research was therefore focussed on discovering the qualitatively different ways that students experience PBL in virtual space.

Data was collected in an electronic environment from a course, which adopted the PBL strategy and was delivered entirely in virtual space. Students in this course were asked to respond to open-ended questions designed to elicit their learning experience in the course. Data was analysed using the phenomenographical approach. This interpretative research method concentrated on mapping the qualitative differences in students’ interpretations of their experience in the course. Five qualitatively different ways of experiencing were discovered: Conception 1: ‘A necessary evil for program progression’; Conception 2: ‘Developing skills to understand, evaluate, and solve technical Engineering and Surveying problems’; Conception 3: ‘Developing skills to work effectively in teams in virtual space’; Conception 4: ‘A unique approach to learning how to learn’; Conception 5: ‘Enhancing personal growth’.

Each conception reveals variation in how students attend to learning by PBL in virtual space. Results indicate that the design of students’ online learning experience was responsible for making students aware of deeper ways of experiencing PBL in virtual space. Results also suggest that the quality and quantity of interaction with the team facilitator may have a significant impact on the student experience in virtual PBL courses. The outcomes imply pedagogical strategies can be devised for shifting students’ focus as they engage in the virtual PBL experience to effectively manage the student learning experience and thereby ensure that they gain maximum benefit.

The results from this research hold important ramifications for graduates with respect to their ease of transition into professional work as well as their later professional competence in terms of problem solving, ability to transfer basic knowledge to real-life engineering scenarios, ability to adapt to changes and apply knowledge in unusual situations, ability to think critically and creatively, and a commitment to continuous life-long learning and self-improvement.

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ID Code: 26423
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Supervisor: Lidstone, John & Bruce, Christine
Keywords: problem based learning (PBL), distance education, online learning
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 21 Jul 2009 04:28
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:53

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