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PBL Summer Workshop Sustaining PBL 9 th -11 th July 2012. LeAP Summer Workshop Sustaining PBL. Derek Raine & Cheryl Hurkett University of Leicester Natalie Rowley University of Birmingham. Problem 1. You will look at the start of a story about sustainable development

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PBL Summer Workshop

Sustaining PBL

9th-11th July 2012


LeAP Summer WorkshopSustaining PBL

Derek Raine & Cheryl Hurkett

University of Leicester

Natalie Rowley

University of Birmingham

problem 1
Problem 1
  • You will look at the start of a story about sustainable development
  • Some of the projects succeed and some do not
  • Discuss how you think yours goes and why
  • We’ll reveal what actually happened and why at the end
  • Read your information sheet
  • Individually write down a sentence describing your understanding of the problem
  • Locate the problem as a group
  • Exchange your Existing Knowledge in relation to the problem; attempt the problem
  • Identify Issues for further research
the projects
The Projects
  • The animal drawn wheeled tool carrier
  • Swidden farmers
  • Nuts
  • Potatoes
  • Aluminium
  • BP solar power
  • Pure pyrethrium
  • H2O

1) The animal drawn wheeled tool carrier

  • This is a multipurpose machine designed to perform agricultural operations and provide transportation where animals are the main source of power.
  • Performs virtually all operations that a tractor can.
  • Designed to be pulled by oxen (bullocks) or buffaloes, horses, mules, and camels. 
  • Not a new concept: ~ 25 years ago such machines were found in East Africa, India, and Senegal.
  • Early models had various design and weaknesses, which have been improved through many years of development.
  • They permit tilling, planting, fertilizing, and weeding to be done with greater speed and precision; increases productivity.
  • Bonus: it can be used as a cart to provide transportation.

What happened next and why?




1) What happened?

An example of a “big” failure is provided by Paul Starkey’s book Perfected yet Rejected (Starkey, 1988), which reveals the true story behind the animal-drawn wheeled-tool-carrier that was developed through research projects in over 20 countries. The wheel-carrier “bubble” grew on the basis of glowing accounts of early trials in which farmers could use the machines but did not have to buy them. Few negative experiences were reported to challenge the “success” story that was being generated. But ultimately the technology was nearly always spurned by farmers and millions of dollars were wasted.


2) Swidden Farmers

  • The Kekchi Maya farmers living in the rainforests of Belize (Central America) developed a sustainable agricultural system over ~100 years.
  • It depended on long-fallow swidden farming during the wet season, and permanent flood-water recessional farming of seasonally-inundated riverbanks during the dry season.
  • Each year as the floodwaters receded, they cut the undergrowth by hand, creating a thick bed of green mulch, into which they planted a variety of crops.
  • Pros: sustained fertility, used little capital and produced high yields.
  • Cons: by 1978 population pressure and increasing needs for cash income strained this system. Suitable land was becoming limited and yields were declining.
  • The farmers experimented with new ways of intensifying production. The velvet bean (Mucuna spp.) crop was extremely useful; it crowded out weeds, managed a number of pests, and improved soil fertility without using chemical fertilizers.
  • Concerned by the poverty of the area the British government also funded a large rural development project, establishing an experimental farm ~ 8 km from the village. They trialled five different mechanized cropping regimes and tested a wide variety of cultigens and agrochemicals.

What happened next and why?


2) What happened?

  • 5 years, 500 hectares, and $ 5M later, they admitted defeat, having demonstrated that with high production costs and low market prices, there was no effective way to make even short-term profits farming basic grains on the local soils.
  • In their last year they discovered the velvet bean that local farmers were using, but they were running out of funding and it was too late to do more than a few experiments with it.
  • The velvet bean had once been a major cover and feed crop in N. American agriculture (with over a 1M hectares planted in the southern USA in 1921); it was later replaced by soybean.
  • During the 80s, without foreign help, farmers all over Central and South America learned about the plant, and found ways to adapt it in a variety of cropping systems.
  • At the same time agronomists and researchers finally discovered green mulching as a "sustainable" technology, and began widespread experiments with the technique, as part of agro-forestry, alley-cropping, and reduced-tillage systems.

3) Nuts

Over 25 separate feasibility studies, project proposals, implementation plans, and project assessments over more than a century are devoted to a single project: commercializing the production of edible oil from the seeds of a palm tree (Orbignya cohune) which is native to the Belizean rainforest.

Attracted by the high yield of seeds per tree, and easy access to dense stands, entrepreneurs, companies, governments, and NGOs have all planned and conducted numerous projects to extract the oil, using imported cracking and rendering technologies developed in tropical palm-oil industries in other countries. One company has built a railroad and a pressing plant employing over 600 people.

What happened next and why?


3) What happened?

Every single scheme based on imported technology has failed, even those directly subsidized by the government, often with drastic economic consequences. In contrast, while imported projects come and go, household-level production by indigenous people using a variety of simple local technologies has never stopped.


4) Potatoes

  • The International Potato Center in Peru has long involved social scientists in developing improved crops varieties.
  • In several areas of the country new high-yield varieties had been enthusiastically accepted by small farmers, but they suffered high post-harvest losses because the new potatoes tended to sprout when stored in the dark inside houses, in the traditional manner.
  • At first foreign technicians designed and demonstrated the economic feasibility of several new low-cost storage buildings that eliminated the sprouting problem by permitting diffused lighting to fall on the tubers. But farmers did not adopt these innovations, for a variety of cultural, economic, and social reasons.


4) What happened?

  • What they did adopt was the idea of storing seed potatoes in diffused light. They also adopted some of the low-cost materials that had been used to build storage racks, though they did not use them in the ways they were taught.
  • Within 3 years the farmers had developed many variants of their own traditional storage techniques that incorporated diffused lighting and new materials. Cooperatives had even built some large-scale storage units of their own design.
  • The scientific team, learning from the rejection of their initial designs, then worked further with farmers, using their designs as the basis for further improvements. They learned which local ecological and social characteristics led people to adopt different variants, and used this knowledge as a basis for further extension of new designs to different parts of the Andean region.

5) Aluminium

  • Alcoa is the world\'s leading producer of primary aluminum, fabricated aluminum, and alumina and is active in all major aspects of the aluminum industry.
  • One of Alcoa’s smelters and refineries, the Alumar plant, is situated in Sao Luis (in Northern Brazil).
  • Alcoa’s values, training and financial support were made available to Alumar in the early stages of development, along with technical assistance and experienced workers.
  • Due to the lack of industrial background in the region there were very few specialized workers available initially; this was in fact the first heavy industry of its type in the area.
  • During this stage Alcoa’s plant in Poços de Caldas supplied several staff to run the plant, and several technicians came from the USA to conduct and teach operational activities.
  • Several technicians hired by Alumar in São Luís were also sent to other plants for training.

What happened next and why?


5) What happened?

  • Alumar is now recognized worldwide as one of the world’s largest industrial complexes for production of alumina and aluminum.
  • In the refinery the present production rate is around 1.27 million tonnes per year of alumina, and in the smelter the current capacity is 365,000 tonnes per year of metal.
  • To support the ‘heavy industry’ a medium-heavy industry has developed in the region, mainly focused on fabrication workshops and industrial gas production.
  • Due to the large amount of goods transaction within the São Luísarea, dozens of local industries have developed since Alumar installation.

6) BP Solar Power

  • BP Solar: The Municipal Solar Infrastructure Project – Philippines BP Solar provides solar energy and upgraded basic facilities in remote un-electrified communities in the Philippines through the Municipal Solar Infrastructure Project (MSIP).

  • Solar energy was the source of electrical power for all systems provided, bringing the advantages of very low operating costs, high reliability, and suitability for operation in isolated communities.
  • The project included delivery of the solar systems as well as energy related infrastructure such as lighting facilities, vaccine fridges, school equipment, and water pumps.

What happened next and why?


6) What happened?

  • This rural development project has provided health, education and governance benefits to more than 500,000 poor Filipinos in 11 Provinces, 53 Municipalities and 435 villages in the Mindanao and Visayas regions.
  • This includes energy provisions to district hospitals and health centers, municipal and village halls and schools, as well as potable water supply systems and lighting for markets and fishermen\'s wharves in communal areas.
  • In particular, women and children in these communities have benefited greatly through new and improved education opportunities and better health facilities.

7) Pure pyrethrium

  • Pyrethrum, a unique daisy, is the source for a naturally occurring insecticide that degrades quickly back into the earth.
  • Pyrethrum grown by Kenyan subsistence farmers are the key active ingredient for world-wide household products.
  • Over the past 30 years, U.S. company SC Johnson had become one of the biggest single end users of natural pyrethrins, for RAIDTM household insecticide products
  • The Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK) manages the country’s total supply of pyrethrum through a network of farmer cooperatives. SC Johnson has worked directly with PBK since 1970.
  • In the early days there was a focus on exchanging skills and knowledge pertaining to crop husbandry and education and training.
  • Initially SC Johnson was sourcing primarily natural pyrethrins; however during the early 1980’s, as a result of the supply shortage of pyrethrum, they turned to synthetic pyrethroids. These had improved in quality, become less costly, and maintained consistently adequate supply levels.
  • A supplier was identified in Japan, which provided very high levels of customer service, efficiency and professionalism that made them an appealing supplier.

What happened next and why?


7) What happened?

  • SC Johnson has helped PBK develop planning and forecasting abilities through sharing of best practice examples and advice on the establishment and maintenance of a safety stock to help offset harvest shortages.
  • SC Johnson has also provided technical assistance to PBK. The company has provided bioefficacy testing protocols and tools to allow for a better comparison of results between products tested at PBK in Kenya and at the SC Johnson in the US.
  • In addition, SC Johnson has also collaborated in the development of up to date analytical chemistry methods that have aided in the identification of new and different pyrethrum extracts.
  • As a result of this long-term capacity building effort, there has been a notable improvement in product quality and a rise in production standards. Standards continue to rise and PBK is now seeking ISO certification.

And then…

  • … records … show that top managers at the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK) conspired to loot over Sh2.7 billion (~£20 million) worth of pyrethrin stock between 2001 and 2005, pushing the State-owned corporation to its knees.
  • The documents also suggest that delay by the prosecuting arm of the government to act on corruption cases may have abetted the decade-long plunder of PBK\'s resources.
  • The records also reveal that channels of corruption ran deep and spanned the tenures of several management teams that conspired to dip their hands into the tills of the parastatal.
  • For residents of Nakuru who saw the factory in full operation in yesteryears, it would seem like a fairy tale to ask them to recall how it was when lorries laden with pyrethrum flowers from Kisii, Nyandarua, Limuru, Naivasha, Gilgil, Mau Narok, Molo, and Subukia would deliver their load before 2003. The silence now is deafening.

8) H2O

  • The Millennium (WatSan) Development Goals (MDG) Review 2008.As the goals set by the United Nations in 2000 are to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.  2.6 billion people world wide are without proper sanitation facilities and the UN has issued a decree calling 2008 the "International Year of Sanitation". Access to sanitation is deeply connected to virtually all the Millennium Development Goals.
  • How to make water supply sustainable?Groundwater is ideal for water supply because it is safer and normally available throughout the year and a handpump is the most simple device to lift groundwater to the surface.

What happened next and why?


8) What happened?

  • African Handpump Drama... Studies show that about 90 % of handpumps break down within 3 years due to worn out or broken parts. Suprisingly, this is still not well know by key decision makers. This may be due to the fact that most projects only mention in their reports how many new handpumps they have installed, not what happens to them after some years. Most projects are still making unsustainable water points while communities are loosing interest and don\'t want handpumps anymore.
  • What went wrong? Handpumps need some kind of maintenance. In the beginning (1980-90) it was argued that the community should take care of the maintenance. Therefore water projects were focussed on training communities for the Operation & Maintenance (O&M). However the major causes of the abandoned handpumps are related to the fragile design that causes many breakdowns and the need for parts that wear out relatively fast, while these necessary spare parts as well as the technical skills to replace them are generally not available after a while.


What did we do?

  • Why ask for individual reflection?
  • Why agree the problem?
  • Why list existing knowledge?
  • Why list issues?

The concept of learning issues is central to PBL. It encourages students to think for themselves about what they know and what they don’t know about an issue.


What are the issues for PBL?

Problem 3: How do we implement/sustain PBL?


Problem 3: Our Learning Issues

  • What is PBL?
  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Planning
  • Problem writing
  • Facilitation
  • Group formation
  • Assessment
  • Evaluation; student engagement

Definitions: PBL

PBL (problem-based learning) is a student-centred method of teaching in which students learn by investigating real-world problems and, working in groups, seek out the tools necessary to solve them.

The average normalized gains <g> for problem-based honours courses at the University of Delaware in 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 were between 0.45 and 0.64.  Those <g>\'s may be compared with the average 0.48 +/-0.14 of <g>\'s for forty-eight "interactive engagement" courses in a survey of mechanics test data for six thousand students in introductory physics courses [Hake (1998a)]

  • ‘nobody wants to like it, but it actually does work’
  • it ‘almost felt like you were doing research’
  • ‘Absolutely love it…’

Variations: EBL

  • Definition: Centre for Excellence in Enquiry-Based Learning, University of Manchester
  • “EBL describes an environment in which learning is driven by a process of enquiry owned by the student. Starting with a “scenario” and with the guidance of a facilitator, students identify their own issues and questions. They then examine the resources they need to research the topic, thereby acquiring the requisite knowledge. Knowledge so gained is more readily retained because it has been acquired by experience and relation to a real problem.”
  • EBL includes the following activities:
  • Problem based learning
  • Small scale investigations
  • Projects and research

Variations: Self-Directed Learning

  • Definition: McMaster University, Ontario, Canada (1/2)

“Inquiry is a form of Self-Directed Learning and follows the four basic stages defining self-directed learning. Students take more responsibility for:

  • Determining what they need to learn
  • Identifying resources and how best to learn from them
  • Using resources and reporting their learning
  • Assessing their progress in learning”

Variations: Self-Directed Learning

  • Definition: McMaster University, Ontario, Canada (2/2)

“Teaching through “inquiry” involves engaging students in the research process with instructor support and coaching at a level appropriate to their starting skills. Students learn discipline specific content but in doing so, engage and refine their inquiry skills. An inquiry course:

  • Is question driven, rather than topic or thesis driven
  • Begins with a general theme to act as a starting point or trigger for learning
  • Emphasizes asking good researchable questions on the theme, and coaches students in doing this
  • Builds library, interview, and web search skills, along with the critical thinking skills necessary for thoughtful review of the information. Coaches students on how to best report their learning in oral or written form
  • Provides some mechanism (interviews, drafts, minutes of groups meetings, benchmark activities, etc) to help students monitor their progress within the course.
  • Draws on the expertise and knowledge of the instructor to model effective inquiry and to promote reflection.”

Why use problem-based learning?

  • Engagement
  • Students work together
  • Students choose which areas to explore, and which questions to answer
  • Students are active in the learning process
  • Focus
  • Away from the tutor – facilitator role
  • Towards the subject
  • Towards the learning process
  • Alignment…

Good PBL Problems…

  • Relate to real world, motivate students
  • Require decision-making or judgments
  • Are multi-page, multi-stage
  • Are designed for group-solving
  • Pose open-ended initial questions that encourage discussion
  • Incorporate course content objectives, higher order thinking

Key features of “driving questions"


  • Students can plan a way to investigate the question
  • The question is appropriate for the students


  • The question is relevant to what people (including scholars in the discipline) really do
  • The question helps students to link major concepts
  • The question is complex enough to be broken down into smaller questions
  • The question leads to further questions

(Modified from Krajcik, Czerniak, & Berger, Teaching Science in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms)


Key features of “driving questions"


  • The question is anchored in real world issues and has real world consequences.


  • The question is interesting and important to learners.
  • The question intersects with learners’ lives, reality, and culture.


  • The question allows students to pursue solutions over time
  • Students can pursue answers to the question in great detail.

Factors influencing decisions about problems

Who is the problem writer?

  • Discipline
  • Control issues
  • Level of investment

What is the course?

  • Students (number and level)
  • Sequencing of course/problems
  • Time/structure of class

Types of Learning Objectives

Content-oriented: subject specific

  • Basic knowledge and understanding of specific concepts, techniques, etc. in the discipline

Process-oriented: global skills

  • Effective communication: oral and written
  • Acquiring and evaluating information
  • Working effectively with others
  • Higher order, critical thinking

Sources of Problems

1) Your current exercises

2) External sources

  • Newspaper articles, news events
  • Popular press in the discipline
  • Make up a story – based on content objectives
  • Adapt a case to a problem
  • Research papers
  • Other?

Step One:

Identify the course

You can think of the subject, level of students, size of class, how you would use it.

List the learning objectives that would be met by this problem


Step Two:

Think of a scenario

Sketch out the first section


Step Three:

What comes next?

Write a brief synopsis of the problem, emphasizing its possible staging

Be prepared to report out.


What is assessment for?

Restricted access (selection/winner takes all)

Competence or mastery of content

Competence or mastery of process

Potential (The Apprentice)

Group process

Group process


Authentic Assessment

Water pipes in the desert

There is too much data or too many experiments for each group to carry out the whole project alone.

Telescope project

Presentations and reports are required to exchange information.


Problems of Group Assessment

  • Pitfalls:
  • Over-assessment
  • Staff time
  • Free-loaders
  • Identifying contributions
  • Solution:
  • Group work as culture (co-operative learning) not method

Pedagogies of engagement: Classroom-Based Practices, Smith et al J EngEduc Jan 2005


Community Building

1) Interactions within groups

2) Interaction with facilitators and staff

3) Balance between group and individual work

4) Interaction between groups


Interactions within groups

  • Group Roles/Rules
  • Group Action Plan
  • Peer Tutoring
  • Induction
  • Planning Phase
  • Investigation Phase
  • Analysis Phase
  • Assessment

Interactions with facilitators and staff

  • Induction
  • Planning Phase
  • Investigation Phase
  • Analysis Phase
  • Assessment
  • Facilitator
  • Subject Expert
  • Audience

Group and individual work

  • G & I Learning Outcomes
  • Individual
  • G & I Deliverables
  • Induction
  • Planning Phase
  • Investigation Phase
  • Analysis Phase
  • Assessment

Interaction between groups

  • Induction
  • Planning Phase
  • Investigation Phase
  • Analysis Phase
  • Assessment
  • Assessment Design

Course data

  • Concept testing
  • Questionnaires
  • Focus groups
  • Observation