If you’ve got as far as clicking on the post I’m guessing you know of or have even heard of PBL before. If you are familiar with this method of learning you’ll know that it involves a group of about 10 people working together to dissect a case and then collectively come up with a list of questions which then serve as a learning agenda for a week. A chair is appointed for the week as well as a scribe. The chair typically directs the discussion and aids the involvement of the whole group whilst the scribe keeps track of it on a whiteboard. This week I decided to take on the role of being the chair for the first time, and I thought well why not write about it here…

So first of all, I think I should give you an overview of what it feels like doing the large majority of your learning using PBL. I have to admit it is a pretty abstract way of learning and it’s so different to the way we all were taught in school which is why it did take a fair bit of getting used to. Thankfully we did have 2 PBL training cases in order to guide us through the process and generally just show us how it should be done. Most people worry about being left in the dark when it comes to doing PBL, but I don’t think this can truly be classed as a ‘limitation’ as you have several lectures and a bundle of resources made available throughout the week to guide your learning. Overall PBL really is great and I am genuinely enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would!

So, now back to what I should be discussing – charing! We open our cases on Monday, work on it throughout the week and then close it on Friday. So being the chair for PBL means that you must take that responsibility for 2 sessions.

One of the things I realised about charing the first session is that it really isn’t as easy as it probably seems to try to instigate a good flowing discussion on the case. Typically, the case is on a topic that you don’t know about, hence the purpose being that you can learn the definition of all these foreign words, understand the biological mechanisms that underly a particular process and be able to place it in a clinical and social context. So in the first session everybody comes in not really knowing a thing with the supposed intention that they will flag up everything they don’t yet know, but want to by the end of the week. This week’s case was on Down’s syndrome, which is a topic that I am fairly familiar with due to my brother having the condition, but not necessarily everyone in the group would have been. Generally, trying to get a group of people to talk about things they don’t know about does require some encouragement – nobody likes delving into the unknown with their eyes shut, as you can probably imagine.

Anyway it was an experience leading everyone to contribute and taking different ideas and suggestions into account to create a thorough learning agenda. When you’re the chair you want it to go all smoothly, because you feel as though a missing item on the learning agenda or a certain topic not being covered properly will be due to you not running the discussion effectively. But that’s obviously not what’s going to happen! Thankfully you have a PBL tutor that helps steer you in the right direction by making sure you’re covering the “Intended Learning Outcomes”.

For the rest of the week we went away and researched the answers to our questions. I have to mention now that I seriously enjoyed this week’s case. It’s an area that I’m already interested in and I genuinely haven’t enjoyed researching a given topic as much as this before! The lectures nicely complemented our case, helping us to understand some of the more complex genetic components of the case. By Friday I had 30 pages of notes which I took in with me to the closing session of our PBL case.

During the Friday session the chair’s role is to ensure that all aspects of the learning agenda are discussed and the different learning points have been addressed by all members of the team. Everyone shared their findings and the group appeared to be a lot more forthcoming with their research and thoughts. Problematic areas are identified to make sure everyone in the group has a very good ground understanding and well as any misunderstandings clarified. This session is also really useful in helping each member of the group to make sure they’ve covered each learning agenda item to a sufficient level of detail. At the end of the 1 and a half hour session we all went round reading a section of the case and summarising our findings to allow us to fully conclude that all parts of the case have been covered.

Overall, I did enjoy taking up the role of the chair and I’m glad I gave it a go! It wasn’t as difficult as I initially thought it would be. It provides you with a better opportunity to fully immerse yourself within the discusion, particularly in the second session as you have to compare different findings and identify areas that could have been covered more thoroughly. Sometimes one person might have been able to answer a part of the learning agenda that the rest of the group weren’t able to, so being given a session to share and explain findings to each other is defintely worthwhile!