Friday, March 24, 2017

Digital Project: Problem-based learning by Eamonn Bourke

I would be remiss to start this blog on Eamonn Bourke's digital project without commenting on the efficacy of his product.  I was very impressed about the simplicity of his presentation.  He is a skilled speaker and understands how to summarize information in a succinct yet comprehensive manner.  I already knew about PBLs yet I couldn't stop scribbling note after note of useful tidbits.  My sincerest compliments to Eamonn.

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Problem-based learning is something I used to lament in my first year of University.  This is cause I came to quickly associate it with dysfunctional teams and a feeling that I was burdened with an unfair workload. I thoroughly enjoyed the peer teaching but I left most projects feeling bitter and upset that the whole group would get a good mark based on (maybe) half the group's input.

Emonn lists some cons in his presentation: Mainly, anxiety and team dysfunction. I was in the throws of this as I attempted to mediate an argument during a conference call between two other team members.  Despite my best attempts, neither one nor the other side of the disagreement could be reconciled, and eventually (and inevitably) a phone was abruptly disconnect.  Feeling disheartened, I was soon online googling conflict resolution and team dynamic management strategies.  I sat there, loathing my dilemma before realizing that I had actually been blessed with an opportunity to explore some "real world" knowledge.

As exemplified by the diagram above, some of the pros of PBLs include:
-Driving question or challenge
-21st century skills
-In-depth inquiry
-Need to know
-Significant content

Now, don't get me wrong.  The project we were working on was very significant, relevant and challenging.  It was also worth 30% of our mark.  Yet, the conflict that had arisen may have actually been the more valuable lesson.  (To this day, I'm convinced the prof had planned it this way using a questionnaire and poll to formulate work groups.)  What I experienced (and no doubt my other team mates) was a synergistic PBL. Where the structure project had evolved into something less structured yet just as relevant: Team dynamics.  In a world where team work is likely one of the most valued characteristics in any work environment, we had stumbled upon a situation that was real-world PBL.

From my perspective, here is a a summary of the real-world PBL in which I found myself:

Challenge: Two parties who are angry at each other and cannot see the value of the other's contributions. 

21st century skills:  The polarizing effect of the confrontation is typical of today's western society.  We are a culture that is unable to "agree to disagree" and compromise. Yet, in this case, it was absolutely necessary to achieve compromise and understanding to move forward.

In-depth inquiry:  Perhaps the most in-depth inquiry is one that is self-guided, which outcomes, breadth and resources at the sole discretion of the one who seeks the knowledge.  (In my case, I spent about 4 hours formulating a plan to encourage the other team members to cooperate.  By comparison, I'd spent about 2 hours on the actual project.)

Need to know/Significant:  In deadlock, this team was at stake of not completing a valuable class project.  This would actually jeopardize the overall mark to a detrimental amount.

As one can glean, this real-world PBL would have both short and long-term ramifications, so formulating a solution was imperative.  In the end, my goal was to have the other team members agree to disagree on various points and to delegate specific tasks to each of them in a manner where they could not interfere with their product.  I would act as a intermediary whereby I would be responsible for synthesizing their products. The outcome was that, with clearly defined roles for all of us, they were not disappointed that I would modify their products as this was spelled out by the new plan.  (I.E. the "solution" to the PBL.)

I regard this as one of my most insightful and repeatedly useful experiences in any school to date.

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