Topic 1 – first PBL online experience

The first two weeks of the course were challenging to say the least. I was part of the leading group responsible for organizing activities around Topic 1. Considering that hardly any of us had had previous experience with collaborative work online I think we performed rather well as a group and did our job well. In many ways this exercise reminded me of collaborative writing a scientific grant proposal except that we knew little about the topic so we ended up arbitrarily assigning pieces of work to everyone, naturally in the course of discussion. In that respect, it was rewarding to see the involvement from the group members and commitment to the final mini-project outcome.

As for the technicalities that we all had to plough through a myriad of links, webpages, shared documents etc. To some extent, the multitude of communication channels turned out to be overwhelming, thus inhibiting the actual  communication within the group in the beginning. Connecting online to discuss the progress has not so far in my view facilitated collaboration, it is what we do offline that matters in the end. I am curious if this is going to change in the course of events ahead of us. On the other hand, admittedly, seeing each other online helps us build congenial atmosphere in the group, which I enjoy and appreciate a lot.

These thoughts on effective communication in the process of collaborative learning bring me to another point. Having read some of the recommended literature (Savin-Baden and Wilkie, 2006; Savin-Baden, 2014) I could not resist skepticism about the suitability of problem-based learning (PBL) for online scenarios. I do not necessarily see how the online learning setup facilitates or enhances classical face-to-face PBL. Interestingly, PBL in itself  is not a well represented form of learning at universities. I could imagine that PBL would be suitable to complement more traditional educational approaches. For example, it could build upon fundamental knowledge transmitted by a teacher (here I do not see an immediate need for students to search by themselves for these fundamental aspects of the knowledge domain they plunge into in a given course) and help students relate or apply that knowledge (thus extend it) in some specific problem-oriented context. At a technical university I could then imagine that the first teaching process mentioned could be moved to the online world in the interest of time as it does not rely so drastically on the live interaction with the teacher, peers or even didactical material. Still, the online value of PBL remains questionable from my point of view. I am expecting however that I will learn to appreciate it throughout the course as my understanding of the PBL online processes grows.

Trying to summarise my position in the digital/online learning environment I must admit feeling as a stranger (“digital immigrant” (Prensky, 2001)) but at the same time I am not fully convinced about any added value of moving towards the resident status (White and Le Cornu, 2011). I could not really say what that status would imply since as a “visitor” I already rely on internet tools (googledocs, skype, messengers, cloud services for storing research relevant information, literature etc.) in my daily research and teaching (rather supervision) practice. Yet I am far from being fully immersed in this world. What adds another dimension to this experience? I am not quite sure, really, it is a collaborative learning aspect in the spirit of PBL.



Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.On the Horizon. 9 (5): 1–6.

Savin-Baden, M. (2014) Problem-based learning: New constellations for the 21stCentury. Journal of Excellence in College Teaching  25 (3/4)  197-219  Preprint Savin-Baden JECT (3)

Savin-Baden, M. & Wilkie, K. (2006) The challenge of using problem-based learning online. In: Problem-based learning online. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).


5 thoughts on “Topic 1 – first PBL online experience

  1. I must say I really enjoyed your conversational way of blogging, as we so often get ‘bogged’ down with being so formal in the blogging process that we forget that we are actually having a conversation or ‘jotting’ down our thoughts.
    I so can relate to what your group experiences, as I too was a group leader…I felt like I was having deja vu reading some parts. Well done on a really well written blog. I have followed your blog and look forward to your next entry 🙂


  2. Dear Pawel, my experience with this first topic very much matches yours. I too felt overwhelmed with the different communication channels (especially all the google+ messages that all of a sudden popped up on my phone ☺). I thought I was good at “the internet”, but I apparently have a lot to learn.


  3. Hi Pawel,

    I agree to some extend to your skepticism. I think one (huge) problem still is how to define PBL. And what parts in the PBL-pedagogy is necessary to call it PBL? Does it have to include group work? Project work? What is the difference of PBL and just practicing on coming examination questions? Could that be called PBL as well?
    And if it works so much better than “normal” learning why is it so?
    From a psychology perspective there is strong evidence that applying, using and testing knowledge is good for long-term retention (see e.g. Karpicke & Roediger, 2008).
    It also seems that PBL can be more or less effective depending on what and how you want to study (Strobel & Barneveld, 2009).

    This is my why. But I think a big problem in pedagogy is that there is a lot of generell theories that are applied into education. But no one knows how… and sometimes if the work for improving learning!

    Strobel, J., & Van Barneveld, A. (2009). When is PBL more effective? A meta-synthesis of meta-analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(1), 4.

    Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning. science, 319(5865), 966-968.


  4. Thanks for the interesting post Pawel. I agree with you that it was difficult in the first week to get used to the online course tools. It felt like a mess in the beginning, but once we get use to it, we really enjoy and want to apply it in our courses. well done.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. The confusion set in… It is a difficult space and I, for one, were very reluctant to participate in this course, as I am quite set in my ways when teaching. My attitude, however, needed to change, and I had to embrace the big unknown, and with people that I have never met, and probably never will. But, in all fairness, I can say that it is very interesting so far, especially because our backgrounds and personalities are quite different, allowing for the hidden curriculum to be experienced.


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