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ADOPTING THE PROBLEM BASED LEARNING APPROACH IN A GIS PROJECT MANAGEMENT CLASS
Wang, X., C Nietch*, M Goss*, S. Hoffa, H. Huang, AND J. Hamaker. ADOPTING THE PROBLEM BASED LEARNING APPROACH IN A GIS PROJECT MANAGEMENT CLASS. Presented at Association of Collegiate Planning Schools Annual Conference, Portland, OR, October 21 - 24, 2004.
To inform the public.
Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a process that emphasizes the need for developing problem solving skills through hands-on project formulation and management. A class adopting the PBL method provides students with an environment to acquire necessary knowledge to encounter, understand, and solve a real world problem, as it would be presented in practice. It is in the process of struggling with actual problems that students learn both content and critical thinking skills. In this presentation we discuss our experience of using PBL in a planning class.
The School of Planning at the University of Cincinnati offers three courses related to Geographic Information Systems. The first is an introductory level course that provides a fundamental understanding of GIS theory, technology, applications, implementation, and related issues. The second course discusses advanced GIS concepts and skills and planning applications. The course discussed here is the third in the series. Students are tasked to design and carry out a GIS project that requires spatial analysis of real world urban and/or regional issues.
In the fall of 2003, a professor in the School of Planning at the University of Cincinnati, the director of The Office of Environmental Quality in Clermont County, OH and a scientist in the Office of Research and Development of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated the class project to map stormwater best management practices (BMPs) in areas of Clermont County. EPA's interest in the project were primarily related to its responsibilities of scientific research of watershed characteristics, the spatial distribution of BMPs, riparian zones, and natural wetlands, and gaining knowledge on the technical and management aspects of BMP evaluation. Clermont County recently received a grant from the USEPA Office of Water to conduct a National Demonstration Project for Watershed Management and was interested in mapping stormwater detention.
At the beginning of the class, the instructor and students met the EPA scientist and several County GIS and environmental quality staff members. All members exchanged ideas and developed mutual understanding of the goals, class activities, data requirement, and final outcome. Clermont County provided all the baseline data within a few days of the meeting.
During the quarter, the EPA scientist frequently visited the class to deliver lectures and provide guidance on student individualized projects. Students worked as a research team with individual analytical and management responsibilities. At the end of the class, students presented their work at the USEPA Facility. More than 20 scientists and managers attended the presentation and participated in the discussion with students. After the presentation, the class delivered a final report along with data products in hardcopy and digital format to the USEPA and Clermont County.
Our experience confirms the findings in the literature that the PBL approach motivates students to acquire new knowledge and develop expertise and experience through the problem solving process. In addition, we find that the class also benefits the instructor and the client of the class project. The instructor is challenged to adjust the content and organization to maximize the instructional effectiveness. The client uses the class project to test new ideas and implementation strategies, which may be difficult to do outside the academic environment. Several outcomes were derived from this class project, in addition to student learning. The presentation slides were added to the school website for demonstration and recruiting purpose. Collaborations were formulated between the USEPA, UC, and Clermont County. A class participant recently was accepted into a PhD program and the class report was a major showing piece during his visit to the program. Our experience suggests that PBL can help build bridges between education and practice; as well as between instruction and research.