New publication: Problem-Based Learning in TESOL

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) has become a popular educational approach and now has a global, multidisciplinary scope of influence. This experiential, student-centered learning approach was first piloted and developed by Dr. Howard Barrows in medical education for physicians at McMasters University in Canada from the 1960s onward. Over time, the methodology has also been adopted by other disciplines in the medical sciences, such as nursing and pharmacology. It spread further in the social sciences to programmes teaching law, sociology, business, agriculture, information communication technologies, as well as teacher education and regular classes for Grade 8–12 STEM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and math) courses. It has even been used in police training. To a lesser extent PBL has been used in areas such as the arts, literary studies, theology, and philosophy.

Due to the multidisciplinary expansion of PBL, a variety of modes for delivery have emerged from the initial approach. However, the following factors are common to PBL whether it is used for an individual module, a course, or a programme. PBL uses tutor-facilitated, small group learning to present students with real-world problems, relevant to their disciplines. The problems require critical thinking and collaboration to resolve. In a self-directed manner, examining what information has been made available, students identify what they do and do not know about the current problem; and they focus it to a manageable scope. Then they search for additional resources and interpret them. As the PBL cycle progresses, they integrate individual knowledge into the group’s final solution to the problem. The tutor will assist with this integration and / or provide feedback on the collaborative efforts, closing off the cycle with reflective activities. In course-based PBL, several cycles will contribute to knowledge creation over the duration of the course. That knowledge will be evaluated in discipline specific ways but preferably with authentic, professionally-oriented assessments that are in harmony with the learning process.

You are encouraged to discover how PBL has been used in an MA TESOL context. Cynthia Caswell is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Linguistics by distance learning, in the School of Languages and Social Sciences. She has recently published research on the topic of PBL and TESOL. The title, abstract, and an active link to her article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning (Vol.11, Issue 1, Article 6) follows:


Design and Facilitation of Problem-Based Learning in Graduate Teacher Education: An MA TESOL Case
(Cynthia Ann Caswell, Aston University)


This exploratory, evaluative case study introduces a new context for problem-based learning (PBL) involving an iterative, modular approach to curriculum-wide delivery of PBL in an MA TESOL program. The introduction to the curriculum context provides an overview of the design and delivery features particular to the situation. The delivery approach has established multiple roles that contribute to the design and facilitation of the learning environment: lead instructors, collaborating instructors, and students as peer teachers. These roles also identify milestones on a collaborative instructional skills trajectory for professional development. In this mixed methods study, qualitative data were collected from collaborating instructors (the majority of whom were alumni) in order to illuminate the nature of successful PBL cycles and quality peer teaching, as experienced in the program. Their perspectives were also elicited on their position in the trajectory, highlighting current professional development benefits and future needs. Quantitative data on student demographics and mean GPA for coursework triangulate the qualitative results. Implications and recommendations for further research are explained.

Keywords:  teacher education, TESOL, problem-based learning (PBL), knowledge creation, collaboration, diversitz

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