Workshop follow-up: PBL a fairy tale

The Forum workshop earlier this week explored Problem Based Learning (PBL) and provided a fascinating and inspiring insight from the York Law School (YLS) into the realities of designing and delivering an entire curriculum with PBL at its heart. From the outset though the presenters were at pains to point out that this was not a “sales” pitch for PBL, nor was the approach discussed the only was that PBL can be delivered – this was just a discussion of how YLS have gone about implementing it and how it has worked out for them.

Jenny Gibbons, Scott Slorach and Richard Grimes, highlighted the approach that YLS has taken to delivering PBL. Weekly problems are devised spanning the core themes of the programme, engaging students with real life issues which integrate with the curriculum but transcend boundaries of module content. Students are introduced to the PBL process from the outset, developing transferable skills in problem solving, group work and collaboration that has significant impacts on graduate employability (and KIS data!)

The session attempted to address three core questions:

  1. How much work is involved in creating resources to support PBL? The reality is that designing and developing well thought out and effective resources to support PBL is not a trivial task. Even when an entire department’s pedagogic approach is centred on a  well established PBL structure (right down to the design and layout of the building) and maintaining PBL resources to ensure they are up to date and reflect changes to law is a significant task. Much of this work comes from the amount of collaboration across the modules required to ensure that the problems and resources can be truly cross-curricula. However, Jenny et al clearly felt that this investment was clearly worth it to produce such a rich and effective learning experience.
  2. Can the model adapt to change? In short yes, and it is continuing to do so, influenced by other disciplines, particularly in response to joint modules such as Law for Art Historians.
  3. Can PBL support student learning? Ultimately this is clearly the key question and the answer seemed to be an emphatic “Yes!”. There is more detail on the rationale, challenges and benefits of PBL in the handouts provided (attached below) but the take home message seemed to be that this is well worth the effort and if you want to discuss your ideas for how PBL could be applied in your discipline then you should get in touch with Jenny, Scott or Richard from the Law School.

Handouts / resources from the session

Students work on whiteboard collaboratively

09/02/15 Enhancing Engagement: Problem-based learning – A fairy tale?

problembasedlearningWhen: Monday 9 February 2015 (week 6) 12.30-2.00pm [Lunch available from 12.15]
Where: Room HG09, Heslington Hall
Who: Jenny Gibbons, York Law School

The relative merits of a problem-based learning (PBL) model as compared with other learning and teaching methods continues to be a topic of discussion at York and in higher education more generally. For staff involved in designing materials at a module, programme or departmental level some of the recurring questions about PBL are:

  • How much work is involved in creating resources?
  • Can the model adapt to change? and
  • Do the students actually benefit more from PBL than from the approach we adopt at present?

This session is aimed at clarifying some of the truths and dispelling some of the myths about the PBL model using examples from the York Law School. The intention is to discuss the rationale behind PBL and highlight some of its strengths and weaknesses before breaking into discipline sub-groups to work through the practical implications.

So is PBL the genie in the lamp who will answer all your wishes, or just an Emperor who has invested in a new set of clothes…?

Please come along and decide for yourself.

If you wish to attend an event, please use our booking form or email

If you are unable to attend an event but would like a copy of the materials, please contact