Attendance and Achievement in Problem-based Learning: The Value of Scaffolding

Main Article Content

Mike Smith
Kathryn Cook


The impact of problem-based learning (PBL) in improving academic achievement comparedwith other forms of teaching is equivocal. This paper argues that poor tutorial preparation and vague reporting of the brainstorming stage of PBL are major contributing factors. To address these issues this study incorporated a scaffolding mechanism into the pre-tutorial brainstorming stage of the PBL process based on de Bono’s (1995) Six ThinkingHats. Results confirmed that pre-tutorial preparation, when measured by attendance and academic achievement, increased across all levels of the undergraduate program for the PBL groups that used scaffolding, when compared to PBL groups without scaffolding and lecture-based delivery groups. This study supports the inclusion of scaffolding during the brainstorming stage of PBL.

Article Details

Research Articles


Albanese, M. A., & Mitchell, S. (1993). Problem-based learning: A review of literature on its outcomes and implementation issues. Academic Medicine, 68, 52-81.

Bradbury-Jones, C., & Herber, O. R. (2011). Creativity in nursing research: Five thinking hats? International Journal of Nursing Studies, 48(2), 143-144. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2010.08.010

Claessens, B. J. C., van Eerde, W., Rutte, C. G., & Roe, R. A. (2007). A review of the time manage- ment literature. Personnel Review, 36(2), 255-276. doi:10.1108/00483480710726136

Colliver, J. A. (2000). Effectiveness of problem-based learning curricula: Research and theory. Academic Medicine, 75(3), 259-266. doi:10.1097/00001888-200003000-00017

de Bono, E. (1995). Exploring patterns of thought: Serious creativity. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 18(5), 15-18.

Hammel, J., Royeen, C. B., Bagatell, N., Chandler, B., Jensen, G., Loveland, J., & Stone, G. (1999). Student perspectives on problem-based learning in an occupational therapy curriculum: a multiyear qualitative evaluation. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 53(2), 199-206.

Hartling, L. Spooner, C. Tjosvold, S., & Oswald, A. (2010). Problem-based learning in pre- clinical medical education: 22 years of outcome research. Medical Teacher, 32(1), 28-35. doi:10.3109/01421590903200789

Hays, J. R., & Simon, H. A. (1974). Understanding written problem instructions. In L. W. Gregg (Ed.), Knowledge and Cognition (pp. 167-200). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem- based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99–107. doi:10.1080/00461520701263368

Hutcheson, T., & Tse, H. (2006). Tutorial attendance and grade achievement. Working Paper

No. 145, University of Technology, Sydney.

Jacobs, A. E. J. P., Dolmans, D. H. J. M., Wolfhagen, I. H. A. P., & Scherpbier, A. J. J. A. (2003). Valida- tion of a short questionnaire to assess the degree of complexity and structuredness of PBL problems. Medical Education, 37(1), 1001-1007. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.2003.01630.x

Jonassen, D. H., & Hung, W. (2008). All problems are not equal: Implications for problem-based learning. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 2(2), 6-28.

Karadağ, M., Saritaş, S., & Erginer, E. (2009). Using the ‘six thinking hats’ model of learning in a surgical nursing class: Sharing the experience and student opinions. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 26, 59-69.

Kenny, L. J. (2003). Using Edward de Bono’s six hats game to aid critical thinking and reflection in palliative care. International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 9(3), 105-112.

Lekalakala-Mokgele, E. (2010). Facilitation in problem-based learning: Experiencing the locus of control. Nurse Education Today, 30(7), 638–642. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2009.12.017

Li, C-S., Lin, Y-F., Nelson, J., & Eckstein, D. (2008). Hats off to problem-solving with couples. The Family Journal, 16(3), 254-257. doi:10.1177/1066480708317674

Lucas, M., Garcia-Guasch, R., Moret, E., Llasera, R., Melero, A., & Canet, J. (2006). Problem-based learning in an undergraduate medical school course on anesthesiology, recovery care, and pain management. [El aprendizaje basado en problemas aplicado a la asignatura de pregrado de anestesiologia, reanimacion y terapeutica del dolor] Revista Espanola De Anestesiologia y Reanimacion, 53, 419-425.

Macdonald, R., & Savin-Baden, M. (2004). A briefing on assessment in problem-based learning. LTSN Generic Centre Assessment Series No 7. York, England: LTSN Generic Centre. Retrieved from: record&section=generic&id=349.

Mauffette, Y., Kandlbinder, P., & Soucisse, A. (2004). The problem in problem-based learning is the problems: But do they motivate students? In M. Savin-Baden & K. Wilkie (Eds.), Challenging research in problem-based learning (pp.11-25). Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

McCarey, M., Barr, T., & Rattray, J. (2006). Predictors of academic performance in a cohort of pre-registration nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 27(4), 357-364. doi:10.1016/j. nedt.2006.05.017

Moust, J. H. C., Bouhuijs, P. A. J., & Schmidt, H. G. (2001). Problem-based learning: A student guide. Groningen, the Netherlands: Wolters-Noordhoff.

Moust, J. H. C., Van Berkel H. J. M., & Schmidt, H. G. (2005). Signs of erosion: Reflections on three decades of problem-based learning at Maastricht University. Higher Education, 50(4), 665-683. doi:10.1007/s10734-004-6371-z

Nash, P. P., Schwartz, R. W., Middleton, J. L., Witte, F. M., & Young, B. (1991). A student-centered, problem-based surgery clerkship. Academic Medicine, 66(7), 415-417. doi:10.1097/00001888-199107000-00010

Olmesdahl, P., & Manning, D. (1999). Impact of training on PBL facilitators. Medical Education, 33(10), 753–755. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.1999.00530.x

Pierrakos, O., Zilberberg, A., & Anderson, R. (2010). Understanding undergraduate research experiences through the lens of problem-based learning: Implications for curriculum translation. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 4(2), 35-62.

Quesada, J., Kintsch, W., & Gomez, E. (2005). Complex problem-solving: A field in search of definition? Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 6(1), 5-33. doi:10.1080/146392205 12331311553

Savin-Baden, M. (2000). Problem-based learning in higher education: Untold stories. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press/SRHE.

Schmidt, H. G. (1993). Foundations of problem-based learning: Some explanatory notes. Medical Education, 27(5), 422–432. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.1993.tb00296.x

Segers, M., Van den Bossche, P., & Teunissen, E. (2003). Evaluating the effects of redesigning a problem-based learning environment. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 29(4), 315-334. doi:10.1016/S0191-491X(03)90016-2

Sharma, M. D., Mendez, A., & O’Byrne, J. W. (2005). The relationship between attendance in student-centred physics tutorials and performance in university examinations. International Journal of Science Education, 27(11), 1375-1389. doi:10.1080/09500690500153931

Smits, P. B. A., Verbeek, J. H. A. M., & de Buisonjé, C. D. (2002). Problem based learning in continuing medical education: A review of controlled evaluation studies. British Medical Journal, 324, 153-156. doi:10.1136/bmj.324. 7330.153

Strobel, J., & van Barneveld, A. (2009). When is PBL more effective? A meta-synthesis of meta-analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3, 48-55.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jenson, M. A. C. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group & Organization Management, 2(4), 419-427. doi:10.1177/105960117700200404

Weaver, R. G., & Farrell, J. D. (1997). Managers as facilitators. San Francisco, CA: Berrett- Koehler. Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2007). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (4th ed.). Cham-

paign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Wijnia, A., Loyens, S. M. M., & Derous, E. (2011). Investigating effects of problem-based versus lecture-based learning environments on student motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(2), 101–113. doi:10.1016/j.cedpsych.2010.11.003

Zaidi, Z., Zaidi, S. M., Razzaq, Z., Luqman, M., & Moin, S. (2010). Training workshops in problem- based learning: Changing faculty attitudes and perceptions in a Pakistani medical college. Education for Health, 23(3), 1-9.