The Convergence of Online Teaching and Problem Based Learning Modules amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
There is a convergence unfolding between two formerly unique and separate areas of teaching research methodology: distance education and problem-based learning (PBL) environments. Much has been published on each field independently, however, in the modern-era of online, distance, and hybrid educational programs there is a need for more case and experiential-based learning activities which can effectively measure stated learning objectives. Trends in education have led to the development of various methods to instruct courses and conduct research online. Teaching research methodology and pedagogy have evolved to include video capture, remote conferencing, and other real-time communications techniques allowing faculty and students to collaborate across great distances. Meanwhile, PBL environments have been used extensively in teaching medicine, clinical practice, law, business/management, and many other disciplines to improve student learning. This has been further accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic through the use of technologies like Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Google Hangout Meet, etc. and the availability of PBL-ready environments in breakout rooms and asynchronous simulated projects. Student preference data from 2020 are reported as part of this study. One example of this merger between online delivery and PBLs was the development of a PBL statistical process control (PBL-SPC) module. A cross-functional academic team was created across both a college of business and college of education in which a PBL-SPC module was developed based on a real-life situation in which students immerse themselves in a potato chip factory environment. The motivation for the PBL-SPC was that this is a challenging topic to cover which students often find difficult to relate to and/or boring. Three different scenarios were developed and students, as individuals or in teams, must traverse the simulated factory to assess the situation. Learning outcomes are measured by the course instructors and the PBL environment is being used by faculty around the world. Additionally, the PBL-SPC module has now been scaled to other applications such as six-sigma simulated project training during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pedagogical methods should be interactive, stimulate learning, improve the learning outcomes / critical thinking, and enhance student experience. This paper proposes that merging the effective and tech-friendly pedagogical methods of PBL-SPC, with the right modalities and model of online delivery, can help achieve these aforesaid goals. Even more, it can deliver a great opportunity to educators and institutions worldwide for advancing the reach of education.
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