April 2, 2001
Seminar links IT with new science pedagogy
Donna Price is the communications coordinator for the Information Technology Division
Originated at Canadas 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.
Its 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. Im
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
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
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. Theres 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
Educational analysts from ITDs Teaching and Research ServicesMarcy
Alexander, Sandra Butler, Adam Lipkin, José Rodriguez and ECIT
Director Wayne Morseassist with hands-on exercises and provide technical
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. Whats 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 communicationsnot just
between faculty and students, but among students and between faculty of
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
its an experiment, a web site that pulls together some of the concepts
weve 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 Universitys Center for Problem-Based Learning at www.samford.edu/pbl/.