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Introducing PBL to a first-year curriculum:
results and experiences
Frank Forsythe
Malcolm Campbell
Paul Keen
[project leader]
[student facilitator]
[student facilitator]
School of Economics & Politics
University of Ulster
Northern Ireland
[email protected]
Mini-project funded by the
Economics Network
[email protected]
Main objectives of the project
To establish a successful first-year PBL component within
the core teaching provision of economics at UUJ
To develop employability skills in first year students, including
independent learning, team awareness, communication and
time-management skills
To develop in students the confidence to use economic tools and
concepts to explain and resolve economic issues and problems
To evaluate the potential of PBL to encourage good academic
discipline and commitment in first year students
To identify the problems posed by introducing PBL to a first year
This procedure is repeated
for each PBL task
presentations, 3 written reports, 1 quiz
– personal development report, final year
 WebCT module support
Final year students acted as group facilitators
Code of conduct governing group sessions
Rogue learners present
Difficulties Posed By Administrative Arrangements
 Micro1 was timetabled for Monday afternoons – no other classes that day
 There was a gap of 6 weeks between the end of the first semester
teaching period and the start of the second semester teaching
 Micro1 was the only module in which students had to sit an examination
based upon a whole academic year (i.e. 2 semesters)
Difficulties Posed by the Student Cohort
The 2006-07 intake to the BSc (Econ) programme was a
particularly difficult cohort …in terms of …
 Attitudes to learning
 General commitment to lessons
 Many modules experienced serious problems relating to
attendance and assessed academic performance
 Rogue learners present
Outcomes of the Mini-Project (1)
Only in Micro 1 was attendance excellent (averaging over 90% for the
24 teaching weeks). Significantly superior to other modules
All PBL tasks were completed on time throughout the year by student
groups. The workload was higher than any other first year
Each PBL task was designed to integrate basic theoretical ideas with
real-world situations. This applied aspect of PBL tasks helps
explain the retained interest by students throughout the year
Outcomes of the Mini-Project (2)
 In terms of developing confidence in the use of economic tools and
their real-world applications, the PBL experiment has been
successful [very evident in final examination]
 Student ‘personal development’ reports assessing their
experiences of PBL are generally positive about their
 The Staff-Student Consultative Committee meeting and the
‘Student Evaluation of Teaching’ reports reflect very positive
student attitudes towards the Micro 1 module
The group seemed more willing to take time to explain the basic
concepts to individuals who needed help, which in turn seemed to
encourage anyone who could not first grasp key concepts to identify
problem areas for discussion at next meeting.
It was also surprising to me to note the quality as well as the quantity
of work that was completed on time, and this seemed to improve as
the weeks progressed.
The “positive externalities” included a number of very important
aspects of student life, which I, as a student felt were often not
addressed fully. The development of real, tangible, transferable skills
through dialogue, discourse and discussion meant that students
better appreciated how to communicate more effectively.
Malcolm Campbell BSc (Econ)
I liked the emphasis PBL placed on self-study and the penalty system
for team members who did not participate.
If students did not do their work the group could penalise them and
award 0% if necessary.
On the whole I do believe that PBL did make the students more
committed to, and interested in, the subject compared to traditional
class lectures.
The most important thing is the attitude that students take to the new
working arrangements - it is important that no individual is allowed to
drag a group into inactivity.
Paul Keen BSc (Econ)
Proposition 1
High ability students excel under ANY learning
Proposition 1
High ability students excel under ANY learning
Proposition 2
High ability students LEARN more in a
student-centred regime
Proposition 3
Weaker students LEARN more and PERFORM better
in a student-centred environment
Summary Proposition
a student-centred regime:
 does not harm high ability students
 will raise the performance of weaker students
“I think this module has definitely enhanced my employment prospects. If I was
to write about my experiences in other modules, which were all lectures, it is
questionable if they have actually developed my skills.
However with this module I can say that I have improved in many aspects. My
teamwork and leadership skills have certainly improved. In most jobs you are
inevitably going to be part of a team. This module has certainly given me more
confidence in a group situation.
This module has also forced me to be organized, as I have to do the work or
else I would be letting my group down. This has instilled good discipline which I
hope would carry over to a job.
Another aspect of this module was the presentations. I have done presentations
before, but never as involved as those required for this module. At the same
time I really enjoyed doing the presentations and was calm and relaxed. I have
no doubt that I felt this way because I was comfortable being up with my group
members with whom I have formed a bond.
Hopefully I can carry over these benefits into employment.”
Year 1 student, Microeconomics 1, UUJ 2006-07