University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The influence of structure and agency on tutor approaches to facilitating problem-based learning across disciplines.

Fraser, Heather M. (2022) The influence of structure and agency on tutor approaches to facilitating problem-based learning across disciplines. PhD thesis, University of Worcester.

Text (PhD Thesis)
HMFraser 08010303 PhD thesis_.pdf - Submitted Version

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The quality of teaching and learning in UK higher education has been increasingly in focus since the turn of the 21st century. This has intensified with structural measures such as the Teaching Excellence Framework and the National Student Survey, which aim to appraise teaching quality. Increasing attention on graduate outcomes begets a need for universities to advance their curricula from content-focused, to outcome-focused curricula, with the aim of students being better equipped with the knowledge, skills, and attributes required for graduate roles.
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centred pedagogy that is effective in supporting students to develop such skills and attributes, although challenges in developing student-centred pedagogies are reported, yet not fully understood. Whilst there is considerable research into PBL, to date, multi-site or multi-disciplinary research is rare. Instead, there is a repetitive trend of single-site studies focusing solely on teaching and learning interactions, failing to contextualise the research fully. Further, whilst disciplinary differences have been reported in more general approaches to teaching and learning, much of this research is dated, and is not specific to PBL.
This study adopted a narrative, life history methodology to explore the influences of tutor approaches to facilitating problem-based learning across five different disciplines, in five UK universities. The disciplines recruited to the study were chemical engineering, law, medicine, occupational therapy, and natural sciences. In total, 24 narrative interviews were conducted, and 20 participant observations of PBL sessions. By adopting a life history approach, and by considering the influence of structure and agency, this study explored the broader context in which the PBL takes place, revealing some of the site-specific norms, or disciplinary habitus that were often imperceptible to participants. Data were analysed thematically, and four overarching themes were revealed.
The four themes that transcended the research sites were signature pedagogies, the law of curriculum inertia, epistemological values, and site civilisations. These findings revealed new insights into the disciplinary and organisational habitus that shapes teaching and learning, and the impact on curriculum development. Further, a deeper understanding was gained of the ways in which both tutors’ epistemological values, and those of key stakeholders influenced the PBL. Site civilisations revealed the crucial value of collaborative learning spaces for both staff and students.
This thesis presents a new model of structural influence that conceptualises the key influences on tutor approaches to facilitating PBL. It delineates three key cogs of structural influence, namely, signature pedagogies, pedagogical legitimation, and pedagogical provinces, and the interplay between these and tutor agency is explained. The findings of this study suggest that conscious consideration of these three cogs, and the ways in which they interact will advance effective and sustainable PBL.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University’s requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. University of Worcester, 2022.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Problem-based learning, Facilitation, Structure and agency
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
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Depositing User: Janet Davidson
Date Deposited: 24 Nov 2022 10:05
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2022 10:35

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