Silicon, Circuits, and the Digital Revolution

Problem-Based Learning

This course relies heavily on problem-based learning (PBL). You will work collaboratively in groups to solve real world problems. By using PBL in SCEN103, you will learn to apply simple scientific concepts, find and evaluate scientific and technical information, and communicate ideas about science and technology to others. Discussions led by the course instructor, plus supplementary lectures, will help to give a context and conceptual framework to the problems.

The rate of generation of new information in the scientific and technical sectors is truly staggering. Information becomes outdated rapidly and is updated constantly; much of what you will need to know in the workplace following graduation has not been generated yet! Thus identifying when new information is needed, where to find it, how to analyze it, and how to communicate it effectively are essential skills to learn in college. An important result of PBL is that while problems are used to identify what to learn, the process of learning "how to learn" is also developed. This method of instruction has been chosen to help you develop skills important for success both in your undergraduate education and in your professional life following graduation.

Effective learning is much more than memorizing information to answer questions on examinations. "Learning (is) a process that culminates in the ability:
    to ask the right questions and frame good problems,
    to acquire information and evaluate sources of information,
    to critically investigate and solve problems,
    to make choices among many alternatives,
    to explain concepts to others (both orally and in writing), and
    to generalize to new situations."
Ganter SL & Kinder JS, editors. Targeting Institutional Change: Quality Undergraduate Science Education for All Students. Targeting Curricular Change: Reform in undergraduate education in science, math, engineering, and technology. A report of the 1998 AAHE Conference on Institutional Change. The American Association for Higher Education.

Problem Solving

Problems are used to introduce various ideas or topics and to serve as focal points for learning new material. You may find this a bit unusual if you are more accustomed to working on problems after the pertinent material has already been thoroughly presented in lecture. Our purpose here is to have the problem provide a context and reason for learning the material You are not expected to be able to come up with a solution instantly -- good PBL problems are meant to encourage a dialogue within your group about what knowledge or insights each of you bring to the situation, what information you collectively still lack, and where to find that information. Students in this course have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences in science, but each can make a valuable contribution to the efforts of the group. Some students may have more "content" knowledge than others, and will be able to test just how deep that knowledge is, by trying to explain an idea to someone else. Others, by virtue of being unfamiliar with a particular area, can often help their group see a situation from different perspectives and, through their questions, make certain that all in the group finish with a true understanding the material.

The general process for solving problems in this course:

  1. The learning process will be collaborative in small groups, similar to most professional working environments.
  2. The major concepts needed to solve the problems will not be given before the problems are tackled. Instead, with assistance from the course instructor, peer tutors, and members of your group, you will learn how to identify what information is needed to proceed through the problem, and where to find this information as the course progresses.
  3. Each problem will often be introduced by a short lecture that may include an overview of the general subject area, suggestions about getting started, identification of potential pitfalls, and suggestions about where to find information.
  4. The problem-solving process will be interrupted as needed for additional pointers and clarification, mini-lectures, and for comparison of the approaches used by different groups.
  5. Each problem will be concluded with a whole-class discussion and/or lecture that will include clarification of concepts that may still not be understood, possible solutions proposed by your groups, and identification of areas of relatedness between the content of different problems.
Roles and Responsibilities

In a PBL course, the roles and responsibilities of students and instructors may differ somewhat from other courses you have taken. Students assume more responsibility for their learning, while the instructor becomes a guide and mentor to students as they work through course materials. As a general guideline, it is expected that students, peer tutors, and the course instructors will make their best effort to fulfill the following obligations to one another:

Students are expected to:

Peer tutors are expected to: The course instructor is expected to: Credits: In these sections on problem-based learning and working in groups, I have borrowed liberally (and often verbatim) from the writings and syllabi of Deb Allen (Biological Sciences), Barb Duch (Math/Science Education Resource Center), Sue Groh (Chemistry and Biochemisty), and Betsy Lieux (Nutrition and Dietetics), all colleagues in UD's Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education.

SCEN103 Comments, suggestions, or requests to ghw@udel.edu.
"http://www.physics.udel.edu/~watson/scen103/colloq2000/pbl.html"
Last updated Feb. 11, 2000.
© Univ. of Delaware, 2000.