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Techniques used by ‘expert’ and ‘non-expert’ tutors to facilitate problem-based learning tutorials in an undergraduate medical curriculum

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There is inconclusive debate within the literature as to whether the best problem-based learning (PBL) tutors are subject experts or not. The debate hinges on whether knowledgeable tutors are tempted to intervene too often in PBL discussions compared to non-expert tutors, and whether the latter may not be able to sufficiently challenge the students' level of understanding. Purpose 

To describe approaches used by tutors in PBL tutorials and to identify differences between tutors from medical and non-medical backgrounds. Methods

The research reported in this paper was undertaken during the academic session 1999–2000 at the Univeristy of Liverpool Faculty of Medicine. A qualitative exploratory case study method was used and two PBL groups were observed. One of these groups had a medically qualified tutor and the other had a tutor from a humanities background. The focus of the observation was the discourse between tutor and students, which was analysed using a framework drawn from linguistics. Results were fed back to both the tutors and the students to check their perceptions of the interactions. Results 

Analysis of the tutorial group interaction revealed that tutors from both backgrounds used similar techniques to raise students' awareness, facilitate the group process and direct students' learning. Differences were noted between the two tutors: the medical tutor set out to raise students' awareness by using questioning techniques herself, whereas the non-medical tutor expected students to question each other. The non-medical tutor was observed to facilitate the group process more often than the medical tutor. Conclusions 

Qualitative analysis of spoken discourse in PBL tutorials provides valuable insights into the processes involved in PBL, thereby generating material which is useful for both training of and giving feedback to PBL tutors.
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Keywords: *problem-based learning; England; curriculum; education, medical, undergraduate/*methods; mentors/education

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Health Science, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand (present); University of Liverpool, UK (at time of study)

Publication date: 01 January 2003

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