Published on October 23, 2000 by William Nunnelley  

Will the "guide by your side" replace the "sage on the stage" in undergraduate teaching? Is the traditional college lecture becoming a tool of the past?

These are among the questions to be discussed Oct. 29-31 when college and university educators from the U.S. and seven other nations gather for PBL 2000, an international conference examining Problem-Based Learning.

More than 600 faculty and administrators will attend the program sponsored by Samford University, delving into the inspiration, development, application and refinement of Problem-Based Learning. The three-day conference will offer 121 sessions. Educators will attend from Australia, Canada, Kenya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden, as well as the U.S.

Why Problem-Based Learning?

Supporters say the technique of teaching--built around teams of students searching out solutions to sets of problems--is especially valuable in today's information age.

"Students in PBL classes must master a body of knowledge in their subject, but because information increases so rapidly, it is critical that they become problem-solvers able to function in a team role as well," said Dr. John W. Harris, Samford Associate Provost and PBL Coordinator.

PBL may be one answer to the criticism that today's students are being shortchanged in their educational preparation, Harris added.

Presenters from 50 institutions will give undergraduate PBL one of its most comprehensive examinations yet. The subject matter is diverse, ranging from "Funeral for Lecture-Based Learning" by Mary Blackinton of Nova Southeastern University to "Virtual Sherlock: A Computer-Based PBL Environment" by the Enkia Corp.

Lee S. Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, will give the keynote address. PBL has been used for several decades in medical and graduate school environments, but as Shulman notes, "the newest stage of problem-based learning (is) its evolution into an approach to the liberal education of undergraduates."

Plenary sessions will be led by Russell Edgerton, director, Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning; Barbara Duch, associate director, University of Delaware Mathematics and Science Center; Trudy W. Banta, vice chancellor, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis; and Wim Gijselaers, professor of education, Maastricht University, the Netherlands.

Samford has assumed a leadership role in the application of PBL to the undergraduate setting as the result of two major grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The school received a $1 million grant in 1997 to design PBL courses and to establish an international clearinghouse for information on the technique. It received a $750,000 grant in 1999 to document the scholarship of teaching PBL courses and establish a national center for reviewing PBL course portfolios.

Through its PBL emphasis, Samford has created more than 50 undergraduate courses using the problem-based approach in five of its six undergraduate colleges--arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and pharmacy.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.