Answer to "Do facilitators require special training?"
This question naturally flows from the previous one. The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’. One would hope that as the institution engages with curriculum reform and PBL implementation, there would be faculty development around the pedagogical approach and that all academics would be involved in developing the new curriculum (e.g. as case-writers, resource developers, etc.). Notwithstanding, whether facilitators be faculty members or casual appointees, there needs to be a common understanding of the institutional approach and philosophy regarding PBL. All PBL facilitators therefore need to undergo initial training and regular updates. As there can be erosion of PBL (e.g. short-cutting by omitting steps), ongoing monitoring and evaluation is required to ensure maintenance of the shared understanding.
It is also important to schedule case briefings to ensure that all facilitators are on the same page in terms of what is expected of students. Preferably these should be weekly, but this may not always be possible. There also needs to be ongoing professional development for PBL facilitators so that everyone is abreast of the most recent evidence relating to PBL and to learning and teaching in general. Periodic external audits are encouraged, particularly if there is no national accreditation body.
The skills of a PBL facilitator are different from those required for teaching the whole cohort. There is reasonable consistency in the literature in terms of what makes an effective facilitator:
Has content knowledge
Allows learners time and space to explore problems
Knows when to intervene without taking over the thinking in which learners should be engaging (i.e. metacognition)
Encourages knowledge acquisition
Encourages skill development
Is reflective of own practices and encourages students to reflect on what and how they learn
Is socially congruent (i.e. displays empathy for learners)
The practices and behaviours of teachers and educators are largely determined by the conceptions they hold about learning and teaching. If a facilitator’s views are not aligned with the constructivist theory that underpins PBL, then he or she may interfere with the group’s brainstorming and hypothesising. These conceptions of learning and teaching need to be explored during the training to ensure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.
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