Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional methodology that presents the learners an "ill-structured and complex domain" problem for which they are to collaboratively research and propose potential solutions. PBL has been successfully used in the field of medicine and being adapted to other fields for all ages of learners. According to Koschmann, et al (1996) teaching for ill-structured and complex domains poses several challenges such as:
How to integrate the multiple perspectives and strategies that apply to the problem ;
How to actively engage learners;
How to allow learners to revise their hypotheses without getting off-track;
How to make sure that the learning is transferable to the real world; and
How to make sure those learners can express their newfound knowledge while maintaining a "skeptical certainty" in this knowledge, as this knowledge still can be deepened and refined.
The problem given has to be adequate, realistic and essential to the learners to meet these challenges. According to Dollah (2006), a problem is subjective in nature. For instance, a task or a question can be a problem for one learner, but fairly a routine exercise for another. Hence, it is not uncommon, if there are tasks or questions that certain learners manage to solve while some fail to find adequate answer. Problem-solving also involves the learners' willingness to accept challenges. Accepting a challenge here means that the learner is willing to find appropriate methods to solve a given problem or a task.
Learning to solve problems is a primary objective in learning, as problems are an inevitable fact of life (Patton et al., (1997). One of the most common is the choices that learner's have to make in daily life. Some of the decisions are simple and straightforward; like deciding what to eat for dinner or what movie to watch. On the other hand, some decisions are challenging and need to think and make decisions using appropriate strategies. When learners are confronted with these types of decisions, they may be forced to choose between two equally good options, or have to pick between two choices that both have drawbacks.
Schoenfeld (1985) states that learners are in fact not weak in problem solving but lack the skills and strategies that helps to solve particular problems. Salleh (2004) discovered that learners, who are able to solve a problem, possess good reading skills, able to compare and contrast and have the ability to identify important aspects of a problem. In the process of problem-solving, the learners will encounter a variety of disciplines in addition to just one subject content area. This form of learning, closely allied to Brown, Collins and Duguid's (1989) cognitive apprenticeship learning, consists of authentic participation in the activities, such as solving and reasoning of complex real-life problems, at a level appropriate to the learner's current competency.
Therefore, creating a program that provides the learners with tools and opportunities to involve in activities normally engaged by the real practitioner would deem appropriate; duly named "My-PBS (Multi-Disciplinary Problem Based Scenarios) Program. My-PBS program not only focus on specific content areas, it also provide opportunities for cross-curricular extensions. Researchers created anchors (scenarios), plus instructional activities to accompany them that focus on the areas of social sciences (i.e., geography, history, moral studies, etc), mathematics, sciences and literacy (Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, 2005; Leo, 1995; Mohd Sham Sani, 1995; Mohd. Zohir Ahmad, 2003).
My-PBS is a technology-based program designed to motivate learners and help them learn to think and reason about complex problems. It is focused on thinking and reasoning because there is considerable evidence that today's learners are not particularly strong in these areas. It utilizes multimedia technology because of its potential to help learners engage in the kind of learning and assessment activities that will develop strong abilities to think and solve problems. Integration of technology and My-PBS has the potential to allow ample of coverage of curricular content, provision of platform and guidelines for learners communication outside the classroom (Gerhardt et al., 2007). My-PBS program is basically an interactive multimedia DVDs based stand alone courseware. It combines video, text, audio, animations and interactivity content forms. The effectiveness of My-PBS integrated with technology seems to improve learner's readiness to use of multiple sources for learning and problem solving skills.
The videos in My-PBS program are particularly useful as it has been acted out by real actors and actresses based on "Best Friends Forever" theme. The content has a high visual impact, where it provides an impression of life outside the classroom which would be inconvenient or perhaps impossible to achieve. It shows that three best friends who were actually stranded in a tropical rainforests, the challenges faced by them and so on. It is certainly to be more visually relevant and more stimulating for the learners as the theme "Best Friends Forever" were pertinent to them.
The current study will be done to examine the effectiveness of My-PBS program with ICT versus conventional method to examine learner's use of multiple sources for learning and problem solving skills of the learners. Ribeiro (2008) reported that problem based learning received positive response from the learners in the following areas such as learners' readiness to use multiple sources for learning and problem solving skills. In spite of that, not many researchers have been done to investigate the effectiveness of using My-PBS program with ICT in the learner's readiness to use multiple sources for learning and problem solving skills of the learners in multi-disciplinary subject. Thus there is a possibility that this My-PBS program with ICT might produce better-off or similar results compared to the PBL method.
Therefore, the purpose of this research is to implement My-PBS program with ICT in multi-disciplinary subjects and to study the effectiveness of this approach towards learners' readiness to use multiple sources for learning and problem solving skills. The research questions are:
Does My-PBS with ICT improve the readiness to use multiple sources for learning among learners?
Does My-PBS with ICT improve the problem solving skills among learners?
Problem Based Learning (PBL) was first introduced in medical education at McMaster University (Canada) in the late 1960s (Barrows and Tamblyn, 1980). Since then, PBL has been widely used across many disciplines. It is commonly used in medical schools (Svinicki, 2007), dentists (Wuenschell et al., 2007), Computer Science (O'Kelly, 2005), train nurses (Beers, 2005), physiotherapists (Dahlgren and Dahlgren, 2002), education, architecture, law and engineering (Savery and Duff, 1995). According to Branda (1990) it is being applied in almost all disciplines or part of curriculum. Problem Based Learning is an experiential learning strategy. It is aimed to strengthen learners' thinking and learning abilities.
PBL (Barab and Duffy, 2000) is based on the assumption that learning does not grow merely in the minds of individual learners. It is actually associated to the social interactions that take place in a particular realistic learning environment and engage the learner in the kind of thinking that would be carried out in real life. PBL helps learners learn skills and strategies in addition to content. For example, learners find themselves developing research skills, use of multiple sources for learning, time management, self-directed learning, transferring knowledge, problem solving skills and other lifelong learning skills while finding information to solve the problem. In PBL, the learners are presented with authentic ill-structured problems before they receive instruction. Then, they must learn the content and necessary skills for solving the problem through collaborative research, discussion, and strategic planning. In PBL, learners take on the positions of planners, scientists, geographers, historians, designers and so on.
In PBL, an ill-defined problem is a problem with multiple possible solutions. Here, learners come across different ways to approach a problem, discuss these with their respective group members and find solutions. At this stage, learners should not know all of the information needed to solve the problem or propose a solution. They must constantly look out for more information and sometimes redefine the problem. Learners "probe deeply into issues searching for connections, grappling with complexity, and using knowledge to fashion solutions." (Stepien and Gallagher, 1993)
In all disciplines, the teacher's preliminary role in PBL is to develop realistic and authentic problems for the learners to solve. They may include videos, audios, memos, letters, charts, articles and so on to present the ill-structured problem in a realistic way. According to Stepien & Gallagher (1993), teacher will present the materials, then acts as a model, "thinking aloud with students and practicing behavior they want their learners to use." Here, the teacher needs to poses meta-cognitive questions to keep the learners thinking about what they are learning and how, such as:
What do we need to know in detail?
Where did you find that information?
What are the searching strategies did you use to locate that particular information?
How did your team effectively communicate with each other?
As for the teacher, they need to give scaffolding to the learners when necessary. The scaffolding from the teacher lies in answering questions with more questions, pushing the learners to find information and solutions on their own. As it continues, the role of the teacher diminishes into the background while students retain in solving the problem. Here, the teacher can help and direct the learners to information which will help them to solve the problem, but should not answer the questions per se. What questions should learners ask? What sort of problems will provoke learners to raise those questions? Those questions will help the learners to focus on certain issues and encourage them to think about how they are learning.
As for learners, they have to take part actively to solve the problem. Learners need to generate a list of learning issues; what they need to know to complete the task per se. Later, when new learning issues arise, the learner has to create an action plan to deal with the issue. When all these issues have been examined, investigated, and resolved, learners will assess their own performance in fulfilling the goals of their actions; by determining what they know, and do not know; predicting outcomes, planning ahead and setting time lines; efficiently allocate time and cognitive resources; working collaboratively towards a common goal; and monitoring their efforts to learn or solve a problem (Wilkerson & Feletti, 1989).
A new concept, 'multi-disciplinary' was introduced in Danish Upper Secondary Schools curriculum by Denmark governmental regulations in 2005 (Andresen and Lindenskov, 2008). The multi-disciplinary teaching was to be planned and carried out in projects. Here, teams of subject teachers were able to collaborate and carried out the experiment on a voluntary basis by small groups. According to Andresen and Lindenskov (2008), the term 'multi-disciplinary' was defined in contrast to cross-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary, "where the borders between subjects are more or less canceled, and in contrasts to trans-disciplinary which does not acknowledge the very division of knowledge into subjects." The same set of rule is being applied in Multi-Disciplinary Problem Based Scenarios (My-PBS program).
According to Michelsen et al., (2005), multi-disciplinary teaching and learning should have potential to establish and strengthen relations between subjects or disciplines. For example, it is difficult for learners to transfer concepts, ideas and procedures learned in one subject to a new and unanticipated situation in another subjects or disciplines (Michelsen et al., 2005). In interactive multimedia My-PBS program, the researcher created scenarios that focus on the areas of geography, mathematics and sciences subjects or disciplines as it may serve the same purpose. The similar program that involves a series of video-based adventures has been developed for fifth and sixth grade students by Jasper Woodbury (Duffy and Jonassen, 1992). Each video in the Jasper series has a main story that is 17 to 20 minutes in length. At the end of each video narration features one of the characters stating a problem that has to be solved. The problems here are posed as a challenge and there are many links in each video that allow learners and teachers to extend their explorations across the curriculum (Duffy and Jonassen, 1992).
The Multi-Disciplinary Problem Based Scenarios (My-PBS) program is a technology-based program designed to motivate students and help them to learn to think and reason about complex problems. According to Dochy, Heylen and Mosselaer (2000), learning in a problem-based learning environments as an active, cumulative, constructive, context-bound, self-regulated, purposeful, and meaningful process. The theoretical framework that guides this program is consistent with constructivist theories (Bruner, 1996; Cobb, 1996; George, 1991; Lee Lik Meng, 2007). According to Glasersfeld, (2000), constructivist "holds that knowledge is under all circumstances constructed by individual thinkers as an adaption to their subjective experience".
Theorists who emphasize the constructive nature of learning argue for the need to change the nature of teaching and learning process that occurs much of the time in many classrooms. Instead of having teachers "transmit" information that students "receive", these theorists emphasize the importance of having student become actively involved in the construction of knowledge. A basic assumption of the constructivist position is that students cannot learn to engage in effective knowledge-construction activities simply by being told new information (George, 1991; Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, 2001; Lee Lik Meng, 2007; Nik Aziz Nik Pa, 1999). Instead students need repeated opportunities to engage in in-depth exploration, assessment, and revision of their ideas over extended periods of time. Several aspects of constructive learning theory are:
Generative learning: It is important to help students engage in generative rather than passive learning activities. For students to overcome their misconceptions of many concepts, it is not sufficient to simply memorize how a scientist represents and explains various phenomena (Driver, 1998). Instead, students need to engage in argumentation and reflection as they try to use and then refine their existing knowledge as to make sense of alternate points of view.
Anchored Instruction: The approach to instruction that is being focused is called 'anchored instruction'. The essence of the approach is to 'anchor' or 'situate' instruction in the context of meaningful problem-solving environment that allow teachers to simulate in the classroom some of the advantages of 'in-context' apprenticeship training. This anchored instruction approach shares a strong resemblance to many instructional programs that are case-based and problem-based (Lundsteen, 1976; Rafidah Md. Noor & Nornazlita Hussin, 2004; Savoie & Hughes, 1994). My-PBS is an example of an anchored instruction. My-PBS will be experimenting with a variety of anchored instruction programs that focus on specific content areas while also providing opportunities for cross-curricular extensions. Researchers create anchors (scenarios), plus instructional activities to accompany them that focus on the areas of social sciences (i.e., geography), mathematics and sciences (Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, 2005; Leo, 1995; Mohd Sham Sani, 1995; Mohd. Zohir Ahmad, 2003). My-PBS is an interactive multimedia DVD's based series designed to promote problem posing, problem solving, reasoning, and effective communication. At the end of each story, the major character(s) is faced with a challenge that the students in the classroom must solve before they are allowed to see how the movie characters solved the challenge. The adventures are designed in pairs with each pairs sharing a common problem schema.
Cooperative Learning and Generativity: The anchors are also designed with an eye toward their use in cooperative learning settings. A number of theorists argue that cooperative learning and cooperative problem-solving groups enhance opportunities for generative learning. Students have the opportunities to form communities of inquiry that allow them to discuss and explain and hence learn with understanding. Another goal is to help teachers provide scaffolds (degree of structure) that enable initially less-skilled groups to begin to explore ideas without going too astray (Von Glaserfeld, 1995; Vygotsky, 1978). Ultimately, it is hope that they can be helped to become generative learners who are self-directed rather than teacher directed.
Figure 1: Theoretical Framework
Mayer (2001) describes multimedia as any settings where material is presented in more than one format as long as those presentations use visual support. The Mayer's theory states that learners must engage in five cognitive processes in multimedia environments, namely:
Selecting relevant words for processing in verbal working memory;
Selecting relevant images for processing in visual working memory;
Organizing selected words into a verbal mental model;
Organizing selected images into a visual mental model; and
Integrating verbal and visual models and connecting them to prior knowledge.
Mayer's theory has proposed three assumptions of cognitive theory of multimedia learning which is related on how learners learn and how learners process information (Mayers, 2001). These assumptions are needed to design My-PBS multimedia learning environments as multimedia design should be consistent and receptive with how human minds works in learning and processing information. Table 1 describes the three assumptions of the cognitive theory.
Table 1 : Three assumptions of the Cognitive Theory
If learners do process information through separate but concurrent processes, then a presentation designer must be highly intentional about what and how information is presented to each channel.
If our cognitive processing capability is limited, then a presentation designer must be very careful not to overload either channel.
Sweller, 1991; Baddeley, 1992
If audiences are actively trying to select and organize information into models in working memory, then researchers need to design presentations that help audiences do this.
(Source : Mayer, 2001)
As Mayer suggests, the presented My-PBS program material have a coherent structure and the message provide guidance to the learner for how to build a mental model of the information. Presentations here are constructed in a way that takes into consideration the way learner's minds work, and the way learners learn.
The experiment was carried out on 62 students (15 years old) from one public secondary school from the state of Penang, Malaysia. All the groups were of mixed ability. This school has one computer-lab and the students of these schools have moderate experience with computer-aided learning.
Administrator was requested to select two teachers as one of them will be using My-PBS materials in their classrooms and the other one will be using the conventional method to teach. Administrator also was asked to provide control class matched to the My-PBS classroom according to ability and curriculum. Each group comprises of 31 students. The study is a quasi-experimental. It also includes the pre-test and post-test observation. Pre-tests will be conducted to establish comparability among the students in My-PBS's and the control group's classes. The pre-test and post-test scores are compared to assess if there are changes from the pre-test to post-test significantly. The independent variable is the My-PBS programme. The dependent variable is divided into two, namely learner's use of multiple sources for learning and problem solving skills. The interactive multimedia My-PBS programme was developed using the Model for Design and Development by Alessi and Trollip (2001). Alessi and Trollip divide the process of formative evaluation into three phases, namely:
Quality reviews by an instructional design and a subject matter expert;
A pilot test of the prototype with a student; and
Validation for conducting a formative evaluation of multimedia prototype.
The first author of this article developed the interactive multimedia My-PBS programme using Adobe Flash Professional version 8. The interactive multimedia My-PBS programme was evaluated by one educational technologist to assess the appropriateness of the programme properties and two expert teachers to assess the appropriateness of the content.
The research instrument was designed based on the review of literature. The questionnaire was divided into two sections.