Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach in which students learn problem-solving and teamwork skills by collaboratively solving complex real-world problems. Research shows that PBL improves student knowledge and retention, motivation, problem-solving skills, and the ability to skillfully apply knowledge in new and novel situations. One of the challenges faced by students accustomed to traditional didactic methods, however, is acclimating to the PBL process in which problem parameters are often ill-defined and ambiguous, often leading to frustration and disengagement with the learning process. To address this problem, the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE), funded by the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) program, has created and field tested a comprehensive series of industry-based multimedia PBL “Challenges” designed to scaffold the development of students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills. In this paper, we present the results of a pilot study conducted to examine student reactions to the PBL Challenges in photonics technician education. During the fall 2012 semester, students (n=12) in two associate degree level photonics courses engaged in PBL using the PBL Challenges. Qualitative and quantitative methods were used to assess student motivation, self-efficacy, critical thinking, metacognitive self-regulation, and peer learning using selected scales from the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). Results showed positive gains in all variables. Follow-up focus group interviews yielded positive themes supporting the effectiveness of PBL in developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes of photonics technicians.
© 2013 OSA, SPIE, IEEE, ICOPDF Article