Many of the pros to the integration of technology and PBLs concern the adaptability and function of the technology:
Technology allowed the mysteries to be adaptively released, and set up was only required at the beginning of the course. This slightly lowered the burden on the facilitator. The facilitator can delete comments that are not related to the mystery, and can post questions to guide students. Blackboard technology automatically saved students’ comments and graded them once the facilitator approved them.
Each group of 50 students worked on their own mystery, and students only saw the comments of others in their group after they posted their own comment. They were required to think for themselves rather than repeating their classmates. Online discussions may encourage introverts to participate, and the convenience of online discussions may encourage participation from all students. As a result, the majority of students successfully completed the tasks (although that does not mean they accurately solved the mystery).
Many students evaluated the virtual mysteries positively, with comments like: It was a fun exercise, they learned to think like an anthropologist, and understand what an anthropologist does.
As a final result, Fukuzawa and Boyd claim: Technology allows PBL to be incorporated into a large classroom setting. This increased student motivation and engagement. It was also implemented with no extra costs.
Although the mysteries were evaluated positively by both the students and the researchers, Fukuzawa and Boyd point to some of the problems with integrating interactive technology.
The biggest drawback came from the group size, which was too large to run efficiently. This led to some other problems, like: Students repeated the same comments without getting feedback from the facilitator. Online discussions did not allow students to effectively collaborate because of delayed postings and the lack of personal connections because of the large group size. Considerable hours were put into monitoring and facilitating the groups, because a facilitator was required to monitor the discussion boards.
Negative student evaluations commented that the mysteries took too much time on information not required to pass the course, and were too difficult.
Many of the cons could be ameliorated with funding. With funding the facilitators could create a larger mystery data bank so that more mysteries could be run at one time and the group sizes could be smaller. Smaller group sizes would also require more facilitators which would also require funding.
Comparing Active and Passive Technology-Enhanced Learning
To create a control group, Fukuzawa and Boyd offered a second activity that was designed as a passive learning option. Students who chose this second option were required to watch 5-minute online videos from a course reader and take a quiz on each video.
Completion of the online video assignments was approximately 12% higher than the completion rate for the virtual mysteries.
No significant difference was shown between the final grades of students who completed the mysteries and those who completed the online videos. Likewise there was not a significant difference in the distribution of grades.
Student evaluations commented that they liked working on their own schedule and having textbook material reinforced. The negative evaluations were very similar to the active virtual mystery evaluations. Students said the online videos took too much time, there were too many, and they were boring.
Recommendations for Instructors
Fukuzawa and Boyd show the value of technology and problem-based learning in fostering student engagement and successful learning. They would recommend that instructors focus on incorporating active technology-enhanced learning experiences because of the long term benefits for students with critical thinking and problem solving. They also recommend that problem-based learning have scaffolding to explain the importance of collaboration and learning along the way rather than simply rushing to solve the problem. They also recommend that instructors use technological methods and find funding to decrease the burden of facilitating such large groups.
This study shows us a new and meaningful way to incorporate active technology into higher education classrooms to increase student engagement.