SCSO 1900, a senior seminar for Science and Society concentrators, is taught by Professor Fausto-Sterling, who uses a problem-based learning approach.
Here is an excerpt from an interview with Professor Fausto-Sterling and three Science and Society concentrators, in May 2009:
Q: What is problem-based learning?
Gabby Salazar '09.5: I think a lot of it has to do with giving students an opportunity to take a question that’s more open-ended and find different solutions to it, as opposed to having a set lab manual, for instance, where they’re expected to get specific answers, there’s a roadmap, and they have to follow exact steps. Problem-based learning is more of an open forum for exploring different solutions and not arriving at the same answer in each situation.
Carly Sieff '09: I think another technique involved is for the professor – instead of answering questions with statements, answering with more questions. It stimulates a curiosity.
Anne Fausto-Sterling: From my point of view it’s setting up the structures so that student learning is active instead of passive. I got very tired of giving students assignments – which they would dutifully carry out – but where the whole impetus was mine, to figure out what the right assignment was, what was most important for them to learn, and guess what they might be most interested in.
So the idea was to give an open-ended assignment in which the students had to become really active in pursuing answers. I’d give a reading assignment and they would decide which articles were most important to read. From my point of view, it also provided more opportunity for creative things to happen. I also learned a lot more about what the students’ skills and interests were.
Kenneth Morales '09: In other classes, in both the sciences and humanities, you often learn how to do something, or experience how other people do some task or activity, and then you practice trying to do it yourself. Something I really liked about problem-based learning is that we developed what the problem was. And because science and society is a new field we had more leeway to explore it ourselves. I also liked how we coalesced into these smaller groups of people who had similar interests.
Fausto-Sterling: Yes, by that time in the semester, we had begun to learn a fair amount about who was interested in what. There was one group that was really interested in elementary education, another interested in performance, and another focused on technology and the Internet. And a number of you had activist commitments that became evident in how you carried out projects. I certainly learned more about all the students in the class than I would have in a more standard seminar.