The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

5.1 Preparing students and staff

For a PBL environment to be successful, staff and students must be aware of what is expected of them and they must be equipped to carry out their designated roles. This section summarises an approach to this preparation.

During the first class students are given a PBL handbook containing the following information:

  • A brief description of the PBL process as outlined in Figure 2, and the time available for each stage.
  • A description of how group meetings are structured, including the appointment and role of task leaders and recorders.
  • The required response to PBL tasks, whether presentations, written reports, etc. The minimum requirements for each type of response are also stipulated.
  • The assessment process, including the assessment criteria used to grade responses.
  • Stipulation of every PBL task, including learning outcomes, reading guidelines, hints for task leaders, etc.
  • How ‘free-riders’ are penalised.

Students can also access the PBL handbook using the online facility for the module. E-mail communication between teacher and students is maintained throughout the teaching period.

Before the teaching period begins, it is essential to have a meeting with members of the teaching team who will be acting as facilitators during PBL sessions. Tutors should also be provided with the PBL handbook that is given to students. Difficulties may arise in PBL sessions because tutors have no previous experience of PBL, interfere too much with student governance of the PBL process, or interpret ‘facilitating’ as ‘doing nothing’. It is therefore helpful to have a preliminary meeting with tutors to explain why PBL is being introduced, the potential benefits (and problems) of adopting PBL, the importance of facilitating student self-directed study rather than inhibiting the process, and how PBL sessions will operate. It is essential that regular communication is maintained with tutors throughout the teaching period so that difficulties are identified and dealt with quickly.

Consistency in approach by all tutors is vital. It is wrong, for example, for one tutor to deal with ‘free-riders’ while another tutor ignores the problem. Hard-working students are being disadvantaged in the latter case and, inevitably, the PBL environment will collapse. When using PBL on first-year modules, careful monitoring of groups throughout the teaching term is imperative. With first-year students there is a greater likelihood of poor self-discipline, which can lead to a breakdown of the group. Safeguarding against this possibility is a crucial role for tutors.