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Using The Internet To Support Problem Based Learning

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.703.1 - 5.703.10



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Louis J. Plebani

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Joseph C. Hartman

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2257

Using the Internet to Support Problem Based Learning Louis J. Plebani, Joseph C. Hartman Lehigh University

Abstract This paper reports on the use of the Internet to support problem-based learning, a trend in pedagogy that is used to engage students in learning by presenting them with problems they perceive as more realistic than textbook problems and by requiring them to fill in gaps when presented with a situation they do not readily understand. This past fall, we implemented a relatively simple homework/project using the Internet in our senior level “Production and Inventory Control” course in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering at Lehigh University. This paper discusses an overview of the problem/learning tool implementation and student reaction.

I. Background

Teaching mathematically oriented subjects such as basic statistics and economic decision analysis is often frustrating. At their heart, these subjects are not difficult (after all, they are by definition logical and for the most part follow consistent rules), but many students have difficulty because they are not motivated to drill the homework problems required to cement the concepts taught in lectures. At the same time, it is widely accepted that students across the educational spectrum understand material better, retain it longer, and enjoy their classes most when they take the lead to think about what they are doing. Research [1,2] has shown that there are two major motivators in this regard: (1) when students work on problems they perceive as meaningful or relevant; and (2) when students are placed in a competitive situation in the role of a problem solver confronted with an ill-structured problem.

In order to provide relevance, an instructor in quantitative courses often introduces anecdotal evidence concerning the application of the basic concepts. This may succeed in capturing interest during a class period, but it is not often possible to provide problems that piggyback on the anecdotes. Usually, if a synergistic exercise is provided, it is in the form of a project because simple homework problems do not permit the complexity required to truly stimulate deep thinking about relevant techniques, solution tradeoffs and their consequences. Textbooks are seldom of much help as they are usually filled with end of chapter exercises that are anything but ill structured. Many students typically do homework by perusing the relevant chapter until they find an example that looks like the current exercise. They then substitute data into the example framework and get an answer without appreciating any details of the method or its application. The downside of projects is the large amount of instructor time that is consumed in developing, managing and grading a realistic project. The effect of this, rightly or not, is that project type problems tend to be excluded from the realm of drill exercises that are often required in science and mathematics.

In an attempt to solve this dilemma of too little learning on the student side and too much tedious work on the instructor side, we have begun the development of a web-based system to bridge the gap between drill exercises and term projects. The system will allow instructors (without excessive

Plebani, L. J., & Hartman, J. C. (2000, June), Using The Internet To Support Problem Based Learning Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8820

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