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      What can we learn from facilitator and student perceptions of facilitation skills and roles in the first year of a problem-based learning curriculum?

      , 1

      BMC Medical Education

      BioMed Central

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          BackgroundThe small group tutorial is a cornerstone of problem-based learning. By implication, the role of the facilitator is of pivotal importance. The present investigation canvassed perceptions of facilitators with differing levels of experience regarding their roles and duties in the tutorial.MethodsIn January 2002, one year after problem-based learning implementation at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, facilitators with the following experience were canvassed: trained and about to facilitate, facilitated once only and facilitated more than one six-week theme. Student comments regarding facilitator skills were obtained from a 2001 course survey.ResultsWhile facilitators generally agreed that the three-day training workshop provided sufficient insight into the facilitation process, they become more comfortable with increasing experience. Many facilitators experienced difficulty not providing content expertise. Again, this improved with increasing experience. Most facilitators saw students as colleagues. They agreed that they should be role models, but were less enthusiastic about being mentors. Students were critical of facilitators who were not up to date with curriculum implementation or who appeared disinterested. While facilitator responses suggest that there was considerable intrinsic motivation, this might in fact not be the case.ConclusionsEven if they had facilitated on all six themes, facilitators could still be considered as novices. Faculty support is therefore critical for the first few years of problem-based learning, particularly for those who had facilitated once only. Since student and facilitator expectations in the small group tutorial may differ, roles and duties of facilitators must be explicit for both parties from the outset.

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          Most cited references 28

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          Learning to Teach in Higher Education

           Paul Ramsden (2002)
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            What makes a tutor effective? A structural-equations modeling approach to learning in problem-based curricula.

            To test and further develop a causal model of the influence of tutor behaviors on student achievement and interest in the context of problem-based learning. Data from 524 tutorial groups involving students participating in the four-year undergraduate health sciences curriculum at the University of Limburg in 1992-93 were analyzed. The tutorial groups were guided by 261 tutors. Overall, 3,792 data records were studied, with each student participating in an average of 2.3 groups. Correlations among tutors' social-congruence, expertise-use, and cognitive-congruence behaviors, small-group functioning, and student' self-study time, intrinsic interest in subject matter, and level of achievement were analyzed using structural-equations modeling. This statistical technique allows the investigator to test causal hypotheses on correlational data by comparing the structure of data with a theoretical model. After minor adaptations, the hypothesized causal model of the effective tutor fitted the data extremely will. Each tutor's level of expertise use and social congruence not only directly affected his or her level of cognitive congruence but also affected other elements of the model. Level of social congruence influenced group functioning in a direct fashion, while expertise use had a slightly negative effect on the students' level of self-study time and a slightly positive effect on level of achievement. As hypothesized, the level of cognitive congruence influenced tutorial-group functioning. Level of group functioning affected self-study time and intrinsic interest. Finally, time spent on self-study influenced level of achievement. The results suggest that subject-matter expertise; a commitment to students' learning and their lives in a personal, authentic way; and the ability to express oneself in the language used by the student are all determinants of learning in problem-based curricula. The theory of the effective tutor, presented in this article, merges two different perspectives prevalent in the literature. One perspective emphasizes the personal qualities of the tutor: his or her ability to communicate with students in an informal way, coupled with an empathic attitude that enables the tutor to encourage student learning by creating an atmosphere in which open exchange of ideas is facilitated. The other stresses the tutor's subject-matter knowledge as a determinant of learning. The data presented in this article suggest that what is needed, really, is much of both.
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              Trends in research on the tutor in problem-based learning: conclusions and implications for educational practice and research.

              The tutor role in problem-based learning (PBL) has attracted the interest of many researchers and has led to an abundance of studies. This article reports on major trends in studies investigating the tutor during the past 10 years. Three major trends were observed by the authors while analysing the studies conducted: studies on the differential influence of content expert and non-content expert tutors on student achievement, studies on process variables, and studies on the relationship between tutor characteristics and differential contextual circumstances. The aim of this article is to summarize the main findings of the studies conducted so far within the three trends observed, to provide directions for educational practitioners and policy makers, and to suggest directions for future research questions. The studies included were selected by conducting a literature search in medical journals, which was complemented with the personal archives of the authors. The results of the studies conducted within the three trends of research have led to advanced insights in tutoring. The outcomes revealed that content expert tutors tend to use their subject-matter expertise more to direct the discussion in the tutorial group, whereas non-content expert tutors tend to use their process-facilitation expertise more to direct the tutorial group. Furthermore, a tutor's performance is not a stable characteristic but is partly situation specific. It is concluded that a tutor should both know how to deal with the subject matter expertise and should know how to facilitate the learning process. Faculty and policy makers should put substantial efforts into designing curricula and cases and developing tutors' skills by faculty development strategies that stimulate reflection. The research agenda should be driven more by modern educational theories of learning in which tutoring is a process aimed at stimulating constructive, self-directed, situated and collaborative learning by students. Furthermore, more qualitative studies should be conducted to gain better insights in teachers' conceptions about the tutor role and student learning to better understand their behaviours.

                Author and article information

                [1 ]Department of Physiology Nelson R. Mandela School of MedicineUniversity of Natal, Durban South Africa, 4001
                BMC Med Educ
                BMC Medical Education
                BioMed Central (London )
                30 October 2003
                : 3
                : 9
                Copyright © 2003 McLean; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original URL.
                Research Article



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