Problem-Based Learning in Clinical Education

Volume 8 of the series Innovation and Change in Professional Education pp 99-120


Multimodality in Problem-Based Learning (PBL): An Interactional Ethnography

  • Susan BridgesAffiliated withFaculty of Dentistry, The University of Hong Kong
  • , Michael BotelhoAffiliated withFaculty of Dentistry, The University of Hong Kong
  • , Judith L. GreenAffiliated withGevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California
  • , Anson C.M. ChauAffiliated withFaculty of Dentistry, The University of Hong Kong

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Black and Wiliam (Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. London: King’s College London School of Education, 1998) introduced the term ‘inside the black box’ to research in educational assessment in the late 1990s. This metaphor can be applied to current research in problem-based learning (PBL). This chapter addresses the need to look inside the ‘black box’ of PBL by exploring two under-researched aspects – independent study and online learning. Using the Interactional Ethnographic (IE) approach to collect and analyse data in context and over time (across contexts), we systematically examined how students learn between tutorials, to explore how online learning supports independent study in a PBL curriculum. The data sources for this chapter are drawn from a single third-year PBL group (n = 8) in a five-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) curriculum. By focusing on independent study and online learning, the results provide new insights into how multimodal texts and tools support learning across a blended, problem-based curriculum. Data sources included video and screen capture recordings of naturally occurring classroom and independent study activity across one problem cycle. Audio and video data were transcribed using Transana™. Application of key theories of semiosis provided further explanations of how the multimodal texts and mediating tools appropriated throughout a problem cycle were socially and academically consequential to knowledge construction. Evidence was found that the use of various texts and tools across a problem cycle supported a discursive shift from stimulus for hypothesising to evidence for final hypotheses.