Fall, 2000
A Course for Problem-Based Learning Group Facilitators

Course Philosophy
Session Topics
Program Benefits
INSTRUCTOR Deborah Allen 
OFFICE 209 McKinly Laboratory
PHONE 831-8958
E-MAIL deallen@udel.edu

Tutorial Methods of Instruction is a course for junior and senior undergraduates, and graduate students who are group facilitators in PBL courses. Students may register for two credits in BISC-422 Section 10, CHEM-467, or special topics/independent study in their home department. It is offered every semester and taught alternately by Dr. Deborah Allen (Fall) and Dr. Hal White (Spring). Dr. Harold White, who teaches Tutorial Methods in the spring semester, will attend course sessions this fall, and lead several session activities. He can be contacted at halwhite@udel.edu, 831-2908.

Meeting Time & Place:

The first class session is scheduled for Wednesday, August 30th from 4-6 pm in 109 Memorial. All additional classes will meet from 4-6 pm in the same location at the dates listed below. As you can see from this list, the Tutorial Methods course will meet more often at the start of the semester, and less often as the semester progresses and you become more familiar with effective strategies. In order to gain practical experience in guiding PBL groups, you will also be asked to attend the regular meeting times of one of the problem-based learning (PBL) courses on campus that uses undergraduate peer facilitators, and meet on a regular basis with the instructor of that course for more specific preparation (either this semester or in the spring).

Readings for each class will be distributed at the previous week's session. The list of readings, session outlines, and additional information associated with each session will be distributed in class or posted here as each approaches.

        Outline of 1st class session         Outline of 2nd class session             Outline of 3rd class session Back to Top

Teaching/Learning Philosophy for This and Other PBL Courses:

Learning, according to the constructivist view, requires active involvement of the learner in an environment where new information can be integrated with prior knowledge and experience. It recognizes the uniqueness of each persons understanding and the impossibility that a learner's construction of knowledge will replicate in every detail that of the instructor. Too often in education, the ability to remember and reproduce information has been confused with understanding.

A constructivist philosophy underlies the problem-based approach to learning. Problem-based learning (PBL) was formalized in medical school education where students in small groups were encouraged to learn basic concepts in the context of a real problem (a medical case study) under the supervision of a faculty tutor (PBL jargon for "group facilitator"). In 1992 several professors at the University of Delaware began to adopt and adapt PBL for undergraduate instruction in both introductory and advanced courses in a number of disciplines. Due to the larger class sizes, these instructors were not able to dedicate their entire efforts towards working with one small group, as was the case originally in the medical school setting when the method was introduced. Some solutions for this dilemma have been for the course instructors to serve as roving facilitators who spend part of each class with each group, or to enlist the assistance of talented undergraduates. This latter solution (or a combination of the two) has been particularly effective, from the viewpoint of students, facilitators, and instructors.

As this strategy has become more popular at UD, the instructors using it have joined together to bring their diverse perspectives and experiences to help peer group facilitators learn the needed skills and to support their efforts in the classroom. The result is the course Tutorial Methods of Instruction, which as indicated by the title, will focus on inquiry- and group-based methods of teaching and learning. Facilitators enrolled in the course will learn how to assist the learning of other students through questioning methods that promote thinking and discussion, through establishing and maintaining positive group dynamics, and by introducing students to new resources. The course is designed to familiarize group facilitators with general methods that should work in any classroom, and are not confined to a particular discipline. While facilitators should be reasonably knowledgeable in the subject in which they will work with groups, and must understand and be familiar with the material in a particular course, they need not be content experts in the subject to be effective at guiding groups.

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Roles and Responsibilities of Participants:

Peer Facilitators in Tutorial Methods course
   Instructors - Tutorial Methods Course

The course instructors will have many of the same responsibilities listed above for the facilitators, and in addition will provide individual feedback and guidance during the semester. They will be available to facilitators for consultation outside the Tutorial Methods sessions.

General responsibilities in the PBL course in which you will tutor:

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Anticipated Topics for Tutorial Methods Sessions

Many of the sessions will use trigger tapes - videoclips that will show student groups in action in a PBL classroom. The clips typically end with a "critical incident" that will serve as a launching point for class discussions of the peer facilitator role and how groups function. These tapes are based on teaching case studies written by the course instructors and former peer group facilitators.

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Expected Benefits of the Tutor/Facilitator Experience

For the students: Having a peer who has had the course and who knows what lies ahead in the major can be a tremendous asset to students who are relatively new to the college experience or to a particular subject. This type of network can have profoundly positive effects on the performance of students in subsequent courses.

For peer group facilitators: The experience will allow you to help other students in a formal way. For students who may be interested in a career in teaching, it provides an opportunity to experience the role of teacher using some of the educational approaches that are likely to continue to be important. It also will be a multidimensional learning experience (helping others to learn as you learn). There is no better way to really learn a subject than to teach it.

For the instructors: It allows us to explore ways to improve the learning of all students, both tutors and PBL course registrants. It requires us to think of the more global issues involved in teaching and learning - that is, those that transcend "coverage" of the content matter of a discipline. It helps us to maintain enthusiasm for teaching by providing an intellectually stimulating pedagogical challenge.

Current or former students in Tutorial Methods of Instruction have served as tutor-facilitators in the following courses:

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Last updated August 30th by Deborah Allen, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Delaware.

Support for development of the PBL peer facilitator program at the University of Delaware has been provided by the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, and the National Science Foundation. The Howard Hughes Biomedical Institute, and the previously mentioned funding agencies, have provided stipends for students serving as peer facilitators in the development phase of the program.