Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


April 2, 2001

Seminar links IT with new science pedagogy

Donna Price is the communications coordinator for the Information Technology Division


Originated at Canada’s McMaster University, the instructional strategy “Problem-Based Learning” (PBL) has been adapted for use in medical schools around the world, including those at Harvard, Georgetown and Boston universities, and two University faculty members are collaborating to bring the technique to Emory.

With PBL, learning takes place through action and multicontextual exposure to information, which makes it a natural fit with information technology (IT) tools. Given a real or fictional problem, the student resolves it through investigation, analysis and research. Students are encouraged to build creative solutions rather than engage in rote memorization and repetition at exam times.

“It’s a new way of teaching science,” said Pat Marsteller, director of the Center for Science Education and co-director of Integrating Research and Education and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. “I’m trying to make teaching, especially at the introductory level, more connected, more real to the students, more tied to the real-world things that concern them.

“Once you excite students about the science and make it relevant and interesting to them, they actually work harder,” she added. “If you do cases in class, with assignments to track down on their own and then report back, students will spend hours more than they would have if you just

Marsteller has been working for years to introduce science faculty to new technologies as well as new pedagogies like PBL. As an outgrowth of her experience with an Emory College Online course, this semester she teamed up with Jason Lemon, an ITD educational analyst in the Emory Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT), to design a seminar that enhances the classroom experience by linking learning strategies and technological resources.

“One of the things you discover when working with technology,” Lemon said, “is that multimedia really lends itself to creating learning opportunities in the form of modules, cases or problems. The teaching opportunity comes when faculty weave together pictures, text, movies, audio clips or a variety of these things to engage the students in the content of the course. There’s so much more depth [and] multiple avenues to approach it.”

The seminar offers science faculty the opportunity to talk across school boundaries about ways to increase active learning. Twenty-four faculty from Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman and Emory are participating in the weekly two-hour sessions that include time for hands-on workshops in the ECIT classroom. Two weekend workshops focus on PBL and bioinformatics; students perform research-grade experiments using the Internet and other IT tools.

Educational analysts from ITD’s Teaching and Research Services—Marcy Alexander, Sandra Butler, Adam Lipkin, José Rodriguez and ECIT Director Wayne Morse—assist with hands-on exercises and provide technical expertise.

“People are all over the map, in terms of technological skills,” Marsteller said. “We introduce them to a little bit of technology each week, and then they work in workshops. We introduced them to Dreamweaver [web development software], and they began to develop content that we could upload to Blackboard or LearnLink or one of the other ‘containers,’ as Jason calls them.”

But, for Marsteller and Lemon, the challenge is not about how well faculty and students master IT tools. “We take a project-based, rather than a skills-based or proficiency approach. We focus on the pedagogy,” Lemon said. “What’s important is the process of learning. The technology opens up whole new ways to work with and think about the material. We look to it to enhance learning beyond those 50-minute class periods. We want to provide more opportunities for communications—not just between faculty and students, but among students and between faculty of different institutions.”

One concept Marsteller teaches is to involve students in leaving a “digital legacy” for the next class. “They should discover something, make something, create something that the next class can build on, whether it’s an experiment, a web site that pulls together some of the concepts we’ve learned, or an animation, if they have computer skills,” she said. “This leaves a legacy, a library of resources that make a contribution to the course over time.”

For more information on PBL, visit the website for Samford University’s Center for Problem-Based Learning at



Back to Emory Report April 2, 2001