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A rationale for problem-based learning in ecology: theory and practice Dr. Malcolm McElhone, Department Humanities and Sciences, University of Wales College,

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Presentation on theme: "A rationale for problem-based learning in ecology: theory and practice Dr. Malcolm McElhone, Department Humanities and Sciences, University of Wales College,"— Presentation transcript:

1 A rationale for problem-based learning in ecology: theory and practice Dr. Malcolm McElhone, Department Humanities and Sciences, University of Wales College, Newport

2 A rationale for problem-based learning in ecology: theory and practice What are the aims of teaching second year ecology? What is the rationale for teaching students to think scientifically How is problem based learning used to achieve these aims? What are the outcomes?

3 Aims of the ecology module Science is distinguished from non-science in a rough and ready way and scientists seem to accept some theories rather than others. Attempt to heighten the students' level of critical awareness of how science need not concern itself with certainty yet be quite capable of distinguishing good theories from bad ones, and truth from falsity.

4 Aims of the ecology module To appreciate the difference between science and non-science and to understand why certain theories have withstood criticism and others have not. To improve the students' knowledge of competing theories regarding plant succession and community structure. To examine weaker and stronger ecological theories

5 Aims of the ecology module To improve the students' ability to negotiate, criticise, communicate and improve their knowledge of a chosen ecological theory To initiate original thinking necessary for the solution of the ecological problems. Introduce students to the excitement of science

6 Insight Working hypothesis Formal Hypothesis Prediction Comparison with observation Falsification Corroboration Formal test phase Informal private phase Existing theory Previous Observation Problem Belief From: Rigler and Peters (1995)

7 What factors influence lichen distribution and abundance? Brainstorming ! Lichen distribution Competition Physical factors e.g Light intensity Grazing Characteristics of bark

8 Strong inference: problem orientated (sharp exclusions) 1. Devise alternative hypotheses 1. Devise terminative hypotheses 2. Devise a crucial experiment to exclude one of the hypothesis 3. Carry out experiment to get a clean result 4. Repeat procedure N Y N Y

9 ……. Our trouble is that when we make a single hypothesis, we become too attached to it. Platt (1964, 350) Concise report evaluating the state of critical discussion Does the theory solve the problem? How can we test it? Has stood up to tests - evaluation of performance Can it predict anything with sufficient precision?

10 What can we ask from a theory? Does it prohibit certain things? Can it be shown to be wrong? What ingenious tests are there? Can it explain more than it rivals? Is it a simple theory? Does it unify ideas? Is it sufficiently general?

11 Creating environments wherein students can discover knowledge: problem based learning and learning by doing The learner brings a base of experience to the problem and takes more responsibility for learning; The discipline boundaries are blurred and there is an interconnection between theory and practice; The teaching role shifts from one of instruction to fostering autonomous learning; There is greater focus on communication and interpersonal skills:

12 PBL enables Students to: Practise logical, analytical approach to unfamiliar situations ; Activate their existing knowledge; Elaborate new knowledge; Learn in the context in which it is to be used; Learn in an integrated fashion; Practise application of new knowledge; Practise critical reasoning; Practise self-directed learning; Practise communication skills ; Practise collaboration in a team. From: Engels (1991)

13 Species area relationships: abstract, general, mathematical, predictive, simple and testable.

14 Species Area Curves: approaches and situations for learning. Short lectures for the presentation of the problem Field work for practical activity Laboratory work for identification and statistics Web-based resources for improving learning Home or library for study Students as an active inquirer new

15 Species richness and area: development of skills of analysis, communication and critical engagement are all supported on the internet. FieldworkData analysisReport writing Identifying plants Sampling Organising and tabulating data Drawing graphs Calculating a regression line Structuring the report Reviewing literature Critically engaging with ideas, methods and data

16 Web-based resources for fostering the scientific approach using problem- based learning Advantages of problem-based learning Popper's approach to problem solving simplified Evaluating your problem Initiating, planning and developing your project

17 Web-based resources for fostering the scientific approach using problem- based learning Review and progress What is understood by an ecological scientific theory? Mistakes Evaluating the scientific merit of your work: desiderata of scientific theory Further reading

18 Design of web page for improving learning. Setting of web- based exercises. Current Situation : lecturing fieldwork Recognition of impediment to learning Learning improved by: More student control More flexibility Greater efficiency More supportive learning environment Evidence of improved learning. Unintended consequences + - Web-based learning: a methodology and a case study involving teaching and learning ecology.


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