Problem-based learning in public health instruction: a pilot study of an online simulation as a problem-based learning approach

Elio Spinello, Ronald Fischbach
Education for Health 2004, 17 (3): 365-73

UNLABELLED: Although increasingly used as a modality in medical education, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) remains somewhat overlooked in the training of public health students (Pham & Blumberg, 2000). This project involved a pilot test of a web-based community simulation as a PBL platform in an undergraduate health behavior course.

PURPOSE: To develop and pilot test a web-based computer simulation as an implementation of problem-based learning in an undergraduate public health behavior course.

METHOD: Using a web-based simulation platform, a virtual community was designed in which the effects of a mock infectious disease outbreak could be studied and various interventions could be tested. Upon completion of the semester course, 14 undergraduate public health education students completed a survey and participated in a focus group to determine issues related to the simulation. Research focused on whether the simulation was perceived as motivating and which aspects were found to be confusing, ineffective or unrealistic.

FINDINGS: Results of the study suggested that a PBL experience based on a community simulation may be effective in providing a motivating and interesting PBL tool for instructing undergraduate public health students. A majority of students agreed that the experience was more motivating and interesting than a more traditional assignment. Design recommendations include an emphasis on incorporating a rich multimedia background, realistic communication and project management tools and the capability for students to submit formatted documents. Further study of attitudinal differences and attainment of learning objectives is recommended between students participating in the simulation experience and those engaging in a traditional assignment.

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