Medicine Blends Computers and PBL

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This is an example case of problem-based learning.


The Medicine Blends Computers and PBL case

  1. Students teams of five to six meet and are provided with a simulated patient's explanation of a medical complaint via a computer network. The computer will allow students access to history, physical examination, and diagnostic data for the case being presented. Students decide the learning issues involved in each case and how to go about solving these issues. The problem finding projections and analyzing are entered into the computer for record keeping and monitoring.
  2. The classroom, whether virtual or face to face, is transformed into a tutorial where instruction takes the form of a process that evolves among students in a team and their coach. The instructor acts as a tutor/facilitator analyzing and guiding student's thinking strategies and modeling these processes for them. As a "meta-cognitive coach" the teaching role becomes one of questioning, probing, encouraging, critical appraisal, balancing emphasis, promoting interaction, and prompting students to become aware of the reasoning skills they are using (Gallagher, et. al., 1992). As different groups work through the problem, their progress is monitored by the instructor and feedback is delivered along with identified research topics for teams. Teams work out assignment among themselves and proceed to tackle them.
  3. After one or two days students reconvene to reexamine the example problem and attempt a solution with regards to their research findings, again the computer is used to record and monitor progress as before.
  4. Next all groups will meet together with the instructor. At this time students will assume the role of "expert" for the topic they explored and present findings. The instructor will give an expert description of the problem solution (instruction in basic science concepts associated with the problem) and provide each group with feedback concerning their efforts and findings. Faculty waits until students themselves have identified the need for specific information to solve their problem, then provides it.
  5. This procedure will be repeated for a group of prototypical problems covering a unit of instruction. The spiral character of this curriculum consciously sequences projects so that each successive project draws on the knowledge and skills developed in the preceding projects. From the student's vantage point this provides repeated opportunities to repeat and refine their skills (Bridges, 1992).
  6. After student teams have completed a unit of instruction the computer integration affords extended practice for individuals. Students will be able to use the computer to practice problems analogous to the problems presented in the unit and view the work of others. The computer will track the method by which the attempts are made and record the information in a database. The computer will compare the student's methodology to a standardized assessment form and record the differences. Feedback is available immediately, indicating the importance of immediate feedback to students after they have attempted to solve a problem.
  7. Evaluation may be administered using the computer on the basis of student performance on a standardized simulation (Farnsworth, 1994).


Bridges, E. M. (1992). Problem based learning for administrators. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 347 617)

Farnsworth, C. C. (1994). Using computer simulations in problem-based learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Proceedings of the Thirty-fifth ADCIS Conference (pp. 137-140). Nashville, TN: Omni Press.

Gallagher, S. A., Stepien, W. J., & Rosenthal, H. (1992). The effects of problem-based learning on problem solving. Gifted Child Quarterly. 36(4), 195-200.