Understanding facilitator practice in the problem-based learning classroom

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study looks at eight individual PBL facilitator cases in the field of medical education at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The aim of this study is to gain an understanding of what affects facilitation practice in a problem-based leaning (PBL) classroom. The facilitators come from various backgrounds and have different levels of knowledge and experience. They are, however all employed in a course on a part-time basis during the second semester of the MBChB first year programme. Each facilitator was observed during their facilitation of a PBL tutorial and thereafter they were interviewed about their actions in the classroom. Bourdieu's theory of practice was used as the theoretical and descriptive framework in this study of educational practice in PBL. Bourdieu speaks of 'habitus' or the 'dispositions' of facilitators that influences their practice. He describes the 'field' as the specific area where interactions occur that are shaped by the habitus of its participants and in turn shapes their habitus. He also describes 'capital' or assets that the facilitators may possess from their previous or current fields that shape the interactions in a field. This theory offers insight about who the facilitators are, how they behave in the teaching practice setting and provides an understanding of what contributes to their practice in PBL. The findings are that facilitator actions in the classroom were shaped by a number of factors including their personalities, social backgrounds, qualifications, experience, beliefs and perspectives, their fields of practice as well as the medical education field at UCT with its institutional factors and values. Theory of practice not only illustrates the principles underlying facilitator practice in the PBL classroom, but allows a description of the interactions between unique facilitator dispositions, experiences, assets and values within a field of medical education. This study forms the basis for future studies in the area of PBL facilitator practice and will contribute to improved staff development, placement and appreciation of PBL facilitators.