This study investigates if students with a constructivist or a traditional conception about teaching and learning prefer different types of problems. A questionnaire was used to classify students' conceptions as either constructivist, traditional or mixed. Problems were categorised in a 2 x 2 matrix based on structuredness and authenticity, and were rated on a 10-point scale by a sample of 324 students from a 4-year undergraduate hospitality management programme. Results show that senior students endorse constructivist conceptions more strongly than first year students, but no significant differences could be detected between constructivists and traditionalists with regard to the preferred type of problems.
Keywords: problem-based learning (PBL); constructivism; conceptions; tasks
An educational philosophy, as a set of guiding principles for education, has to be reflected in teaching practices and the students' conceptions about education. The ideas that students have about teaching and learning develop during their years in education. It is generally understood that exposure to constructivist approaches to the curriculum influence students' conceptions about teaching and learning (Chan & Elliott, 2004; Entwistle & Peterson, 2004; Lam & Kember, 2006). Problem-based learning (PBL) is generally conceived as exemplary of constructivist views of education (Savery, 2006; Savery & Duffy, 1996). Considering the quintessential role of problems in triggering and guiding the learning process in PBL, research into the interaction of problem characteristics and student conceptions is needed (Gijselaers & Schmidt, 1990; Jacobs, Dolmans, Wolfhagen, & Scherpbier, 2003). The present study investigates which conceptions about teaching and learning students hold in a problem-based curriculum and, more specifically, whether students with either a more constructivist or a more traditional conception about teaching and learning prefer different problem characteristics.
Problem-based learning (PBL)
PBL was developed as an approach to the curriculum at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, in the 1960's (Barrows, 1996; Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980; Taylor & Miflin, 2008). PBL can be considered as a typical example of a constructivist approach to education (Savery, 2006; Savery & Duffy, 1996). It has received wide-spread recognition in higher medical education (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980; Boud & Feletti, 1991) and, in recent years, the value of PBL for business education (Brownell & Jameson, 2004; Yeo, 2007) including hospitality management education has been acknowledged (Huang, 2005; Kivela & Kivela, 2005). The incorporation of PBL in higher education curricula ranges from single subject courses to PBL as a curriculum approach. This study took place in a University of Applied Sciences that has adopted a thematic-modular approach to curriculum development with PBL as the main educational approach. The bachelor in hospitality management curriculum can be characterised as PBL-blended, because other more conventional teaching and learning methods are applied to support the PBL process.
PBL is characterised by its focus on contextual, collaborative, constructive and self-directed learning. Students construct knowledge from solving real-life tasks in collaboration with other students. Students are responsible for their own learning process and collaborate with one another in small groups of 8 to 12 students, in 90 minute sessions. The PBL sessions take place twice a week and are facilitated by a tutor. The tasks in PBL are presented at the beginning of the session and function as the main stimuli for learning (Wilkerson & Gijselaers, 1996). The seven-step model, which was developed at Maastricht University, gives the students a framework for learning from tasks and problems (Moust, Bouhuijs, & Schmidt, …