An analysis of the problem-solving experience of students in an online problem-based learning environment
Oldenburg, Nancy L.
MetadataShow full item record
Practitioners in nearly every field encounter complex, ill-structured problems in their professional activities. Educational technologists and educators are charged with facilitating the development of problem-solving skills, yet strategies to accomplish that objective are challenging to identify. These skills are particularly necessary in nursing education, where a rapidly changing healthcare environment mandates that students have the ability to determine their learning needs and seek out resources to meet those needs. As a model of constructivism, problem-based learning (PBL) has been promoted as a means of helping students to gain problem-solving skills. However, more needs to be learned about the strategies actually used by learners in a PBL group. This study was based on the frameworks of PBL and the community of inquiry model. The purpose was to explore the problem-solving experiences of a group of six nursing students in an online PBL course. Data, including online discussion transcripts, reflective papers, and interview transcripts, were analyzed using a qualitative approach of open coding and category formation. This study provides insights into what takes place in a PBL group. Four major themes emerged: problem-solving strategies, providing and receiving feedback, the development of social presence, and student perceptions of the experience. Students successfully resolved the PBL cases, showing evidence of all four phases of problem solving (i.e., recognition, information gathering, construction of meaning, and resolution). The majority of their online interactions were related to information gathering; however, there were signs of the construction of meaning. There was little critical debate or the consideration of multiple perspectives; instead, these students were focused on consensus. Signs of social presence were evident during the first case, and full achievement of social presence was noted by the end of the semester. Student perspectives about PBL and their experiences were positive. Implications for practice were presented. Cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence must be considered in the design and development of course offerings that promote problem solving. Ways to assist students in gaining confidence in the PBL process and to provide technical support in the online environment must be developed.