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Learning Programming with the PBL Method- Experiences on PBL Cases and Tutoring

By Esko Nuutila, Päivi Kinnunen and Lauri Malmi


Abstract. We describe an implementation of an introductory programming course using the seven steps method of problem-based learning (PBL). In that method students working in small groups learn programming by trying to make sense of complex real-world problems, so-called cases. We outline the organization of the course and give examples of possible cases. We then describe our experiences with the role of tutoring in the method and the properties of programming-related PBL cases. We carried out experiments with tutorless PBL to see if the method could scale up to courses with large numbers of students. The results were disappointing. Student questionnairies reveal possible reasons. Firstly, when a tutor is not present, the students become insecure if they are progressing in a fruitful direction and thus come frustrated and lose motivation. Secondly, the behaviour of a group may deteriorate, i.e., become unbalanced or turn into irrelevant chatting. We have also analyzed the properties of our PBL cases, since it is not straightforward to identify good PBL cases in the area of programming. In the analysis we try to spell out what the concept “open-ended real-world problem ” means and how it is affected if the focus of work is on explanation or design. We relate the cases to different aspects of programming skills and present student feedback on the cases. 1

Year: 2009
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