Saturday, 2 July 2011

“Resource Lite”

So I had to make a complete mental shift in my thoughts about PBL this past week. 

In all my past experience with PBL this is the way it works…  The first tutorial of each new week the students are introduced to a brand new (unfamiliar problem-hence the name… Problem Based Learning).   During discussion of the problem and hypotheses to explain it the students develop a series of “learning issues” they can research to help them understand the problem.  Before they meet for the second tutorial usually two days later,  they access text books, attend a lecture or two and come back to tutorial 2 with answers to all their learning issues.  Then they get new information about the patient and move further on with the problem…

Here’s the rub… for this to work the students HAVE to be able to access resources that allow them to answer their learning issues.

This past week in Nepal however I was met with the unprecedented situation (for me)  where students were unable to uniformly access the text books that would allow them to answer their learning issues.  Despite having about 20 copies of the two books they needed, only two were on reserve in the library and the rest were out on 2 week loan.  I however was not aware that the books were not available to most of the class so the educational consequence was that I (as their tutor) was frustrated  because I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t seem to be returning with their learning issues sufficiently answered.   I know the students are very bright and motivated to learn so what was the explanation?   The students were frustrated because I kept telling them they did not answer their learning issues (despite doing their best job with inadequate resources).  It wasn’t until after the third tutorial of the week when I asked them how many had been able to read the recommended text book (and only 3 out of 8 in my group had), that I had an inkling of what was going on.  At the end of week “case wrap up session”  we polled the entire class and found that only 20 of the 60 students were accessing the textbooks between the tutorials.  The upshot is that you can’t do PBL without resources for learning.

In the short term we have made some alterations at the library and now all of the copies of text books are now on RESERVE and available for 2 hour loan so all students in the class should be able to share the resources that are there.
The long term plan however is to ensure that by next year there will be  60 copies of the two recommended textbooks in the library and available for loan.  That will require some strategies back home to raise the money for purchase of books for the library. 

The lesson I learned was the importance of access to adequate resources for PBL learning….  and to always ask the students first if they can get the information they need.

Onward to week 3…


  1. Couldn't have been easy to figure out what was going on -- so many possibilities. Hope you'll keep us up to date on what happens. Will all the students be able to get to the library to do the reading? Will your counterparts use PBL next year?

  2. Thanks for the comment Wendy.

    One week later, and all the "on loan" books now in the reserve section. Yesterday's tutorial went like clockwork. Students came in well prepared, clear on their learning issues and discussed topics competently. I was able to sit back, listen and guide with minimal questions. Very very satisfying.

    In answer to your question Wendy, PBL is planned as the central pedagogy for the first two years of basic science learning in this curriculum.

  3. THis was a comment from Rebbeca to the post "Resource Lite" above:

    Rebecca Raworth has left a new comment on your post "“Resource Lite”":

    Hi Carol Ann,
    Would the infrastructure at the school/homes of the students support internet access so that e-books could be accessed? Buying an e-book with unlimited access is cheaper than buying 60 copies of a text. Would iPads loaded with the relevant texts work (1 per student)? If so, I bet Apple would donate them to the school?

    I assume the Patan Academy makes use of HINARI? From its website at, "HINARI Programme set up by WHO together with major publishers, enables developing countries to gain access to one of the world's largest collections of biomedical and health literature. More than 8,000 information resources (in 30 different languages) are now available to health institutions in 105 countries, areas and territories benefiting many thousands of health workers and researchers, and in turn, contributing to improve world health." See for info about the e-books they provide.

    Carol Ann, please let me know of any other library/information issues either the students or faculty face at the Patan Academy. I'm the IMP librarian, love Nepal (i was there and in Bhutan and Thailand in 2009), and love helping, in any way I can.


  4. Rebbecca
    The med school has an E-Resource room with about 28 PC's. The students have access to that room every day until 7pm. Some (but not all) of them also have laptop computers at their homes or student hostel. Internet is OK but not bomb proof and there are days when the entire system is shut down. Downloading times are quite slow.

    I will look into HINARI. THanks for the suggestion.

    We are looking into the potential for medical school E-book contracts from a couple of major publishing companies. I'd like to talk to you more about the logistics of this either online or when I am back in August.

    warm regards
    Carol Ann