, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 321-341

Problem based learning: Cognitive and metacognitive processes during problem analysis

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Abstract

An important phase of problem-based learning in a tutorial group is problem analysis. This article describes a study investigating the ongoing cognitive and metacognitive processes during problem analysis, by analysing the verbal communication among group members, and their thinking processes. Thinking processes were tapped by means of a stimulated recall procedure. Verbatim transcripts of both the verbal interaction in the group and the recall protocols were analysed. The goal of this research is two-fold, i.e., to investigate whether PBL indeed leads to conceptual change and to develop a method that is sensitive to these phenomena.

The results suggest that the verbal interaction in a group shows only the tip of the iceberg of the cognitive and metacognitive processes on which it is based. The verbal interaction in the small group discussion mainly concerned theory building, and to a lesser extent, data exploration and meta-reasoning. Stimulated recall of the thinking process during that discusion, however, provides more and unique information about hypothesis evaluation and meta-reasoning. In the protocols of stimulated recall, the process of conceptual change by students could be made visible. The ways of dealing with anomalous data could be described as well as the conditions that determine how students deal with anomalous data. These results suggest that the method was sensitive for detecting conceptual change during problem analysis.