A Tai Guide to Chairing PBL

For anyone who doesn’t know, PBL stands for Problem Based Learning, and it is a huge part of my medical school. Students are put in groups of about 8-10 and each group has a supervisor. There is a new patient scenario every week based on the theme of that week’s lectures, and in PBL sessions the group has to come up with learning objectives that they believe the scenario raises. Everyone gets one objective to go off and research (that research is supported by lectures and seminars) and they feedback to the group in the following session. PBL is student led, as the supervisors are just there to observe and occasionally guide when they feel we’re going off track.

I really enjoy it because I love the independence it gives us, and also the fact that it builds our teamwork abilities as we have to trust each other with feeding back on our different objectives. It’s also a breath of fresh air from traditional lectures and I love the interactive aspect of it, so it really is the best of both worlds. Every PBL session, there is a different Chair (person who leads the session, determines feedback order, gets people to contribute etc) and Scribe. This week I was the Chair and I was super duper excited, so I decided to take a different approach to it.

Here’s how to chair PBL, Tai style:

1. Arrive a good 20 minutes before everyone. This gives you a chance to set up and get ready for the fun activities you have planned, and it also makes a good impression on the supervisor when he arrives and sees that you’re there, ready to go.

2. Have a feedback order prepared before the session. Make sure you have gone through everyone’s work so that the order you’ve come up with makes sense in terms of information being presented.

3. When everyone else has arrived and they are all ready to go, begin the session with an enthusiastic “Hi guys!” and smile, of course. Smiling is lovely, everyone should smile more!

4. Before feedback begins, award a chocolate bar to the person who was first to upload their learning objective on the group on-line board. Why do this when no other chair has done such a thing in the past? Because you’re Tai and people deserve a surprise every now and then, especially recognition for punctuality, a skill you yourself are QUITE keen at…

5. As people feedback, thank everyone after they finish and ask the rest of the group if they have any questions. It’s polite and opening the floor for questions clears up any confusion people might have.

6. Make sure that your own presentation stands out from others when it is eventually your turn to feedback. You’re the chair so no pressure, but yours has to be AWESOME. One way to jazz things up is by having a role play somewhere in it, or playing a relevant Youtube video to the group. It’s different and way more fun than just reading from a sheet of paper.

7. When feedback is over, announce that the group is going to go through this week’s scenario by popcorn reading. Popcorn reading is a bit childish, yes, but it is fun and interactive and I love it. If you don’t know what popcorn reading is, click here for an explanation.

8. While brainstorming learning objective possibilities, introduce a tally system to the group. Everyone has tallies by their name and a contribution to the brainstorm gets a tally rubbed off. The aim is to get all your tallies rubbed off by contributing, and this is a good way to ensure that everyone talks, so that brainstorming isn’t dominated by the louder people.

9. When brainstorming is done and the learning objectives have been agreed on, get the group to pick an objective by taking a number randomly from a hat. To make it fair say that the order of choosing will be done in the order that people got rid of their tallies. You should pick last because other chairs in the past have used their authority to have first choice, and that wasn’t really fair.

10. Make sure everyone understands their objective and then you can end the session!

As you can probably tell, I had A LOT of fun chairing 😀 This week’s theme was Diabetes, Biochemistry and Homeostasis, and my objective is on homeostasis and its principles. Fun fun fun!


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