"Operation Recreation: Adventure Challenge": Teaching Programming through Problem-Based Learning Theory

Article excerpt

Abstract

We describe a semester-long teaching/learning approach employed in three recreation programming classes at the University of Utah that incorporated aspects of Problem-based Learning (PBL), theory-based programming concepts, and practical experience. The semester culminated in "Operation Recreation: Adventure Challenge," a day-long six-stage adventure race held on campus. The event was conceived, planned, carried out, and evaluated by the students enrolled in the three programming classes. In the following pages, we discuss how we incorporated PBL into our teaching, how PBL informed "Operation Recreation: Adventure Challenge" and student learning outcomes, and how the reader might employ PBL similarly.

KEYWORDS: Problem-based learning, recreation programming, collaborative learning

**********

Undergraduate programming classes provide a meaningful opportunity to incorporate problem-based learning (PBL) into a class project. PBL is a teaching method based on the principle of using problems as the starting point for the acquisition of new knowledge (Lambros, 2004). The problem to be solved is typically ill-defined, and students must work in small groups to develop a solution. The instructor fades into the background and students must find answers to the problem(s) themselves.

In programming classes at the University of Utah, the problem that students identified was to create a better sense of community in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT). The University of Utah is a commuter school, which does not lend itself to fostering a sense of community. Moreover, there are five different emphasis areas for undergraduates in PRT, and students pursuing different career paths often go through their undergraduate studies without seeing one another in a non-academic setting.

Application of Problem-based Learning

To help foster a tighter sense of community, the students designed a program similar to the television series The Amazing Race--an adventure experience where teams move from station to station by solving puzzles and performing challenges. The programming process progressed through the following seven steps.

Step 1: Introduce Approach to Students

In general, the students in our department are accustomed to traditional classroom instructional methods. PRT students' attitude to their education could be summarized as: "You teach me. I take tests. I pass the class and then take another." Instructors in the PRT department anticipated that an alternative model of instruction would be bewildering and cause some anxiety. Consequently, we introduced a collaborative, two-part experiential learning process. First, we included a careful description of PBL and its goals in the course syllabus. Second, we used frequent group discussions to clarify roles and further define expectations. Once students understood the structure of the course, they moved on to the type of event they were going to program.

Step 2: Decide on a Program

Instructors introduced two techniques to generate ideas and involve all students in the planning: 1) brainstorming and 2) a nominal group decision-making process (Levi, 2007). This allowed students to experience the role of creativity in programming, a concept described in most programming texts (e.g., DeGraaf, Jordan, & DeGraaf, 2005). We evaluated students' ideas based on feasibility, their skill and interest level, cost, and the ability to engage 75 people in carrying out the program. This process took two weeks and resulted in the birth of "Operation Recreation: Adventure Challenge."

Step 3: Implement Program Theory

This step required use of a text that fit our philosophy of recreation and programming--Rossman and Schlatter's (2003) Recreation Programming: Designing Leisure Experiences. We believed intentional, outcome-based programming was important for students to understand, and used it as the framework for our program. …