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MSU Vets Demonstrate New Teaching Methods
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Students experience information overload, but educators at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine are teaching professionals a new method to prepare students for jobs that demand current information.
After having employed problem-based learning to help students learn material better and prepare them for evolving careers, professors at MSU's veterinary college are giving tips to other institutions that want to design their own PBL programs.
About 145 people came to MSU for the sixth annual workshop on problem-based learning recently at the CVM.
"Many of our own faculty members from MSU attended, as well as people from other institutions in the fields of pharmacy, nursing, physical therapy and education. There were even a couple of people in music and landscape architecture, but most were from medical-related professions," said Dr. Phil Bushby, academic program director at the CVM.
"This workshop has given me a lot of information to apply in my own teaching. Problem-based learning stresses the importance of interactive learning in groups," said Dr. J.C. Anderson, physical therapy and athletic training professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga.
Problem-based learning is an innovative alternative to traditional teaching methods. Instead of relying heavily on lectures, problem-based learning encourages students to research and learn by using any resource available to them.
"In a problem-based learning program, the primary focus is developing life-long learning skills to prepare students for professions that are continuously advancing and gaining more information," Bushby said.
"There is no way any veterinary school, medical school or pharmacy school can teach students in four years all the information they will need throughout their career," he said.
Bushby said traditional teaching systems may transfer information efficiently, but problem-based learning can overcome some existing problems.
"Using traditional teaching methods, it is hard for students to learn everything they need to know and the material often becomes obsolete very quickly," Bushby said.
Problem-based learning gives students a system for confronting the unknown. For each problem that must be solved students use a four-step process that includes considering facts, ideas, plans of investigation and learning issues.
"When the students are out of school and confronted with a new disease, they will not be locked into a memorized system of education. Instead, they will have the ability and confidence to use available information to research problems and find modern solutions," Bushby said.
The goals of problem-based learning are not only to solve the unknown, but to learn in the process. Students learn information in a realistic context.
"Learning should not stop at graduation. Graduation should signify that students are capable of continuously engaging in self-directed learning so they can keep up with current information and continue to be competent in their professions," Bushby said.
Speakers at the workshop included Dr. Howard Barrows and Ann Kelsen, both of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
Bushby said although problem-based learning at CVM seems successful, the true measure of success is in how well graduates of the program perform. The first class to go through the problem-based learning curriculum graduated this May.