Article Title

Effectiveness of Problem-Based Learning Prior to Lectures on Learning and Retention


In the mandatory tutorial sections of an introductory probability and statistics course of just over 70 students in the Arts and Science undergraduate program, students were randomly assigned to small groups to work on accessible problems from upcoming material without any prior instruction on how to solve them. Solutions were ungraded, and marks were assigned for participation only. A multiyear study was conducted to test students for their level of retention one year later, comparing them to a previous control group. The test question concerned Bayes’ Theorem. Results suggest that the strategy improves student reasoning and retention of concepts while, as expected, a formula is long forgotten. However, low participation rates in the survey post-test produced a p-value of 20%, precluding a claim of statistical significance. Nonetheless, qualitative student feedback on surveys during the course showed a very strong positive response to the approach. Students reported the approach helped their thinking and reasoning, and assisted in their learning. They appreciated the informal, low-pressure environment of the problem-based learning (PBL) sessions, and reported that the sessions were beneficial for developing their own understanding of the concepts before going to lecture. Notwithstanding their positive feedback on PBL activities, students still expressed a preference for traditional instructional approaches where the teaching assistant leads them through solution procedures.

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