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Foothills to Fourteeners: Preparing Students for Research in the Real World: PBL

Guide for Library Instruction West 2016 conference presentation.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

Howard Barrows (2002) gives the following definition of PBL with four components:

1) Problems given to students must be complex enough that there is no one correct answer

2) Students must be allowed to self-direct in their exploration of causes and solutions and their gathering of information

3) Instructor serves as a “guide at the side of the learner instead of a sage on a stage at the front of the class”

4) Scenarios given to students should be as realistic as possible, ie. types of situations students will face as decision-makers in the future

Evaluating Websites

You are tutoring a friend in ENG 090 who is writing a paper on Martin Luther King, Jr and using websites to find information. Take a look at http://www.martinlutherking.org/ and http://www.thekingcenter.org/. Think about the CRAP criteria for evaluating sites. Which website would you recommend your friend use and why?

News Search

You work for a company that helps businesses, schools, and churches prepare for natural disasters. Your boss has a meeting with a potential client in 15 minutes.

The client mentioned concern about “the disaster that destroyed Tuscaloosa in 2011.”

Your boss wants you to quickly find information on this event so she’ll be prepared to talk about it with the client. This needs to be reliable so that she can mention where you found it.

Medical Question

You are babysitting your niece for a few days, and she comes home from school with red, itchy eyes.

You need to find out a little information about what this could be and what you should do about it. You want the information to be from a trusted source. 

Campaign Office

You’re working in a campaign office for a local congressman. Because of your savvy English skills, you’ve been tasked with writing a paragraph speech on a hot election issue: how are marijuana retail stores and dispensaries impacting school kids growing up in Colorado?

  • Find two reliable popular sources and two scholarly articles related to the topic.
  • Come up with a few sentences your boss can use in a speech, summarizing the issue and taking a stand.

Citizen Journalist

You’ve been hired to be a citizen journalist for your community news website. Using Storify, you will need to research, write, and publish 8 articles related to your community, events, or people over the course of the semester. Be sure to include multiple perspectives on an issue and to show how stories you write connect to larger issues in our state, country, or global environment.

Hospital Intern

You are an intern at a large research hospital and your supervising physician requests that you investigate the gut microbiome in order to treat ulcerative colitis. What initial questions will you need to ask to about the topic? How might you break this project into steps?

Sharing Memoirs

You are helping an older relative who has been working on a memoir of her varied, interesting life and travels. She thinks she would like to self-publish the book, but doesn’t know much about the process or the best platform to go with. Her budget is less than $100 for this project. You think her book might also be well-suited to blog posts or other methods of sharing her memoirs. Suggest three options she might consider and why.

Public Art Proposal

You have been asked to create a proposal for a new public art piece to be displayed near your town’s City Hall. The medium and design are flexible; the only stipulation is that the project must relate to the town’s famous women leaders from the 20th century. You will need to research the history of the town and it’s female leaders as well as the town’s existing public art works to propose a new work that is both innovative and reflective of the town’s history.

KLMR, Inc.

You work for the Mayor's Office in your city and have been told that a major multinational company, KLMAR, Inc., is interested in relocating to your city, bringing up to several thousand employees to live and work in your area. The company is looking at four other cities in the United States. You need to prepare a portfolio and a 15-minute presentation showcasing your city's best assets to convince the company to choose your city. The portfolio and presentation must include:

  • Brief background and history on your city
  • Data on cost of living, housing costs, school districts, healthcare facilities
  • Information on sports, arts, and cultural events in the area
  • Two possible locations where the company could build their headquarters

(Adapted from an assignment by Peggy Quinn at Arapahoe Community College)

Gaming Video

You created a short video for a class assignment that uses short clips from a recently released video game and from the YouTube channel of a gamer. Since the video was just for class, you didn’t see any issues with using these clips. However your classmates like your video and are encouraging you to post it to YouTube. What steps should you take to give credit to the creators of the clips? Can you post your video online at all?

Sand Creek

You are researching the Sand Creek Massacre to help plan a community event in your town. The massacre took place in Colorado 150 years ago. Historical sources include newspaper accounts from the time of the massacre, Congressional testimony by John Smith, an eyewitness to the massacre, testimony from Colonel Chivington who was interrogated by Congress, and transcripts of modern-day oral histories from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes recounting memories of the massacre passed down through generations. The accounts differ substantially on the cause of the conflict and what took place. How will you determine which information is authoritative and where biases may influence the accounts? How do the government testimonies, news articles, and oral histories differ in ways of knowing?

Disaster News

You are investigating how news was shared was used during a recent natural disaster in your state. How do people communicate about the event on social media? How do they communicate about it through news outlets or government channels? Based on your findings, make recommendations for how your state could better prepare to share news and assistance during future disasters.

Index of Scenarios

General Undergraduate

5-10 Minute Scenarios

Hour-long Scenarios

Semester/Multi-Week Scenarios

Discipline-Specific Scenarios