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Collaborative Knowledge Construction in the Context of Problem-Based Learning

Exploring learning from conflicting ideas and knowledge

Aarnio Matti

Studies in Educational Sciences 261 Today’s medical education faces the challenge of developing students competencies to resolve ever more complex problems in collaboration with other professionals. Problem-based learning (PBL) has proven useful for developing many of the competencies needed in modern healthcare. In PBL students collaboratively construct knowledge to explain and solve problems related to real-life situations. In such knowledge construction, dealing with conflicting ideas and knowledge has the potential to enhance student learning while also developing teamwork and critical thinking, skills that are central to multi-professional healthcare teams. The studies that make up the present doctoral thesis explored how students deal with conflicts on knowledge and how they are facilitated to handle such conflicts in PBL tutorial discussions. In addition, the thesis focuses on how to help students learn teamwork skills and critical thinking. <!–more–>Study I examined how to teach teamwork skills to first-year medical students and how to motivate them to learn these skills. The teamwork skills focused on verbal communication in PBL tutorial sessions and in healthcare teams. Feedback on the teamwork skills module from three consecutive classes of first-year students was analysed. Students motivation to learn teamwork skills increased significantly when the introduction to the topic was improved by more clearly pointing out the clinical relevance of such skills. Study II focused on how conflicts on knowledge were dealt with in PBL tutorial group discussions. Four video-recorded tutorial sessions including 33 first-year medical and dental students were analysed. Conflicts on knowledge were found to be relatively rare and generally fairly brief. This was due to a lack of collaborative and thorough argumentation, as well as a lack of questions that would elicit elaboration on the issues. Study III examined tutor facilitation during tutorial discussions, and particularly how the facilitation helped students to collaboratively resolve conflicts on knowledge. The study focused on the tutors in the same video-recorded tutorial sessions as in Study II. The tutors typically intervened by confirming what the students had said or by giving explanations, but they rarely asked questions that would stimulate elaboration on knowledge. During conflicts on knowledge the tutors gave more explanations, but did little to encourage the students to elaborate on conflicting ideas. Study IV focused on medical students conceptions of critical thinking in preclinical PBL. The aim was to find out how the students defined critical thinking, how they perceived it in preclinical PBL and what they expected it to be in clinical practice. The students typically understood critical thinking as judging the reliability of sources of information. Few students understood critical thinking to mean reflecting on their own thinking or viewing things from different perspectives. Students conceptions of critical thinking may have prevented them from seeing the connection between critical thinking in preclinical PBL and critical thinking in clinical practice. The present thesis sheds light on the processes of collaborative knowledge construction related to dealing with conflicting knowledge and ideas in PBL tutorial discussions. The results confirmed prior research findings, which have shown that students rarely deal with conflicting ideas and knowledge, and they point to the central role of the tutor in facilitating students to address these matters in tutorial discussions. The findings also revealed that engaging in deep inquiry during conflicts on knowledge was challenging for both students and tutors. The results further underlined the importance of clearly pointing out to students how they will benefit from the skills learned in preclinical PBL, such as teamwork and critical thinking, in their future professions. Based on these findings, new ideas for improving learning from conflicting ideas in small-group discussions are introduced. Future studies are encouraged to continue exploring the many exciting avenues opened by the present doctoral thesis.


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