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1. Butler, P. J., Dong, C., Snyder, A. J. , Jones, A. D., and Sheets, E. D. (2008) Bioengineering and Bioinformatics Summer Institutes: Meeting Modern Challenges in Undergraduate Summer Research CBE - Life Sciences Education, 7, 45-53.


The authors describe a common problem in summer REU programs in that the incoming students can be ill-prepared to do research and the mentoring faculty will not mentor effectively. The end result being the students leave not really experiencing research and not moving their assigned project along. The problem was address by adding didactic, formal, organized training to get the students up to speed, gantt charts,symposia, seminars, social activities and other supportive organized events to enhance a sense of community and cause productive research. I would have liked to see more formal assessment; The only data presented in the paper was a student satisfaction survey where they did like the new program better and reports of antidotal evidence. Not that related to PBL, but still interesting.


2. Choo, S. S. Y., Rotgans, J. I., Yew, E. H. J., Schmidt, H. G. (2011) Effect of Worksheet Scaffolds on Student Learning in Problem-Based Learning. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 16(4), 517-528.

A test of the effectiveness of worksheets as scaffolds for a problem-based learning course was described. The study was very well set up, with 17 separate sections randomly assigned to a test or control groups. The worksheet was used in the test group, but not the control groups. The course subject matter involved health issues and the specific examples given were students understanding the complement system. This paper suggested that in their course the particular worksheets they used as hard scaffolds made no difference in the performance for the students. I did find the tests they used to assess effectiveness somewhat odd, especially the questionnaire given to students. I don't think the questions asked were fair. It rated the worksheet against  things that should be more effective; the instructor and the group work. I sure hope a worksheet isn't more effective than my personal instruction. Better questions such as, I found the worksheet useful, would have been better. Only one period was assessed as far as I can tell and it would have been better to do this throughout the semester with a number of assignments.

3. Etherington, M, B. (2011) Investigative Primary Science: A Problem-Based Learning Approach. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 36(9), 36-57.

Etherington described the implementation of a PBL approach aimed at teaching pre-service k-6 school teachers about science. The PBL curriculum replaced a classic lecture course with weekly modules that approached various science subjects by examining problems and answering three questions: What do we know? What do we need to know? How can we find it out? I liked the drawing of parallels between the scientific method and the PBL approach (see figure 1) The article tends to ramble on about what PBL is and how wonderful it is. It also had typos in it and could be far more focused. Did the study work? How do you know? The assessment was purely through feedback from the students involved. While these were very positive, there is no comparison to the old way of doing things except the authors feeling that this was much better. There are lots of useful ideas in this account and it is a great resource for thinking about how to implement a course using PBL.

4. Nowacki, A. S. (2011) Using the 4MAT Framework to Design a Problem-Based Learning Biostatistics Course. Journal of Statistics Education, 19(3). 1-24.

Nowacki created a new curriculum centered around the 4MAT framework (Why, What, How, If) to PBL. A biostatistics course is converted from a classic lecture style course to PBL. Biostatistics was thought of by the students as something to get through that had little relevance to what they would be doing. The implementation of PBL changed their perception of it. (Figure 1 is a nice graphic of how it was implemented) Some excellent examples are given of the problems students were assigned and how they handled them. Assessment was by evaluations to gauge student reaction to the course and by performance on USMLE1 a licensing exam. Students were much more positive about the class and performed just as well on the USMLE1. The college always had top performers, so they were in more do no harm mode with academic achievement. It clearly was worth it.

5. Chapman, B. S., Christmann, J. L., Thatcher, E. F. (2006) Bioinformatics for Undergraduates: Steps toward a Quantitative Bioscience Curriculum. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 34(3), 180-186.


The paper reports on the re-design of a bioinformatics course to PBL. The curriculum was divided into 6 sections and they used best of breed applications in each area to examine the topics, instead of grabbing everything off the shelf. Pre-class assessment was done to determine what students knew about biostatistics and interventions were done to get them up to speed when necessary. Interestingly, competent students who passed he assessment were used to tutor other students or consult on the quality of the test. This was a creative solution to the problem of a heterogeneous student body. Something I have also found to be true in bioinformatics. A number of formal assessments were done to test effectiveness. However, there were no control groups taught the old way. The questionnaire given to students to identify low achieving students highlighted an important truism. Some students just don't want to learn and it does not matter what you do.
 

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