Problem Based Learning

Leena Karambelkar attended the Spring 2012 FTI and after that experience decided to try a Problem Based Learning assignment, a strategy that was covered in the FTI.  Here is what she had to say about that decision:

PBL:  Empowering students by bringing more creativity, curiosity and interest to my Hindi Language classes

Among the methods of integrating course material with real-life situations, problem-based learning, also known as PBL, is an increasingly popular approach in which students learn to think critically in the classrooms while applying acquired knowledge to their worldly perception.  PBL gives students intrinsic enthusiasm to establish their own projects to pursue through the lectures and philosophies provided in the traditional classroom setting.  I was first introduced to this theory when I attended a lecture by Dr. John Peters during the Faculty Technology Institute last summer. Even though PBL is well-known in the field of sciences, I was intrigued by its student-focused approach and wished to incorporate it in my Hindi classes.  Along with learning Hindi through my instruction, I wanted them to find a way to bring this language and the meaning of the Indian culture closer to their hearts by establishing real-life connections with the objectives of acquiring various language skills. According to M. M. MacKinnon, PBL “empower[s] students with valuable skills that will enhance their motivation to learn and ability to achieve.”

When I introduced PBL in my Intermediate Hindi 201class, I gave the students some information published in scholarly reviews such as Stanford University Newsletter on Teaching and we discussed the overall concept of PBL. Then, it was their turn to search for ‘ill-structured’ problems from their areas of interest that “serve[d] as the initial stimulus and framework for learning” (Wilkerson and Gijselaers 101).  Even though bothered by starting difficulties, they gradually established excellent personal goals ranging from communicating with the school children in India to imagining a trip to India.  They soon realized the fabulous opportunities PBL offered: to convert classroom training to the actual world, gain more knowledge about their own goals, and even facilitate aspects of their own careers.

Some of the projects initiated and completed by the students include translating William Blake poetry into Hindi, creating pen pals in India, studying life in rural India, and creating language resources for Hindi classes.  One of my students, Elizabeth Burdette, worked on planning an imaginary trip to India, communicating with the host family, researching the city of Jaipur, and creating real-life situations.  After she learned that she had won one of the most coveted national scholarships (The Critical Language Scholarship) to study in India for two months this summer, she knew that she had already prepared a solid groundwork for her trip through her PBL project.

The class objectives of acquiring language skills and understanding cultural perspectives were underlying parts of their projects. PBL experience taught students life skills such as planning, research, having ownership of the project which they started using in other classes too. I believe that through their PBL involvement, students fulfilled the core purpose of our college by pursuing and sharing knowledge through study, inquiry, and creation in order to empower the individual and enrich society.

Works Cited

MacKinnon, M. M. (1999). “CORE elements of student motivation in problem-based learning.”   In M.Theall (Ed.), Motivation from within: Approaches for encouraging faculty and students to excel (pp.49-58). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wilkerson, L., & Gijselaers, W. H. (1996). “Concluding comments.” In L. Wilkerson & W. H.   Gijselaers (Eds.), Bringing problem-based learning to higher education: Theory and  practice (pp. 101-102)

And what did she think about this assignment? 

“The results are amazing. These were students’ projects. They were created out of real life problems. The students gave 100% of their efforts. They had genuine interest in working on these. The freedom to create their own processes brought lots of creativity. They are looking forward to start new processes this semester. I have even introduced PBL in my 102 class. This is just a second semester for them in this language, but they are ready to take the challenge.”

Did she notice any difference in the students retention of knowledge?

“Yes! They were not the passive receivers of knowledge in these situations. They created knowledge based on what they already knew and what they needed to know. They stayed focused on the objectives of our course  i.e. to learn all language skills. But they let their creativity fly without the boundaries. so the results were invaluable. They shared their projects with others, so everyone benefited from the process.”

How did she assess the assignment?

Here is the grading scheme :

Plan of the project     10%  (Relevance to real life, Focus on the language skills)

Actual Units              60%  (Vocabulary, grammar, ideas, cultural perception)

Resources                  15%  (primary, secondary resources)

Presentation             15% (It’s use as a resource to other students, clarity)

Was this a new assignment or did you change a previous assignment? If it was a change what was the previous assignment?

Added this as a new assignment with 20% of the final grade.

What were the class objectives?

1.  Reading:  To be able to read complex descriptive and narrative texts

2.  Writing:    Strong familiarity with the script, able to write on variety of topics

3. Speaking:  Should be able to handle a variety of communicative tasks with ease

4. Listening Comprehension:  be able to comprehend formal and informal conversations

5. Cultural awareness: To gain deeper knowledge on various topics to grasp socio-cultural nuances of the language

I had a chance to speak with some of her students, Elizabeth Burdette, Peter Spearman, M.J. Abbey Shuler, and Shrey Patel  after this assignment and get their thoughts:

They told me that they “learned a lot about  the culture”.  And this assignment “helped with vocabulary retention and found relationships in words that didn’t know was there”.  They felt that they got to use the grammar they learned in class and learned how vocabulary and grammar work  in real conversations.

When asked if they had any advice for students who will being doing a PBL project next semester they said that a student needs to hold themselves accountable.  And it is rewarding if you do something that you are interested


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