This review is structured under four sub-headings, PBL, on-line course management systems, multimedia artifacts and pedagogical motivation.

Each of these headings relates directly to the study's theoretical and conceptual frameworks. It is primordial to note that each of the subheadings are interrelated and interdependent in terms of their relevance to the research questions and are merely subdivided for ease of orientation.


Problem-based learning (PBL) has many variations but all require a problem as the stimulus for learning, are an educational approach, not an isolated instructional technique, and are student-centered. Problem-based (PBL) learning has been extensively used in medical education with claims of providing numerous benefits for professional development and learning in a way that is especially relevant to future professional practice. Other disciplines such as business (Stinson & Milter, 1996), science (Arambula-Greenfield, 1996; Kingsland, 1996), mathematics (Seltzer, Hilbert, Maceli, Robinson, & Schwartz, 1996), architecture (Kingsland, 1996), biochemistry (Cohen, 1994), and computer science (McCracken & Waters, 1999) are using problem-based learning as an educational approach. Even though PBL is a well-defined instructional method, it has been characterized as an approach to learning rather than a teaching technique (Engle, 1997).

Description of Problem-Based Learning

PBL may have as many different descriptions as proponents. However, there are some common characteristics found in nearly all problem-based learning designs. Charlin, Mann, and Hansen (1998) proposed three core principles for distinguishing PBL and non-PBL educational activities. The first principle requires a problem as the stimulus for learning. Second, in agreement with Engle (1997), PBL is not an isolated instructional technique, but an educational approach. The third and final principle, defining PBL is that it is a student-centered approach. These principles are accompanied by four criteria concerning the effect on student learning. PBL (a) requires active processing of information, (b) activates prior knowledge, (c) provides a meaningful context, and (d) stimulates opportunities for elaboration and organization of knowledge.

Albanese and Mitchell (1993), in their seminal review of issues surrounding the controversy between traditional and PBL approaches to medical education, define it as "… an instructional method characterized by the use of patient problems as a context for students to learn problem-solving skills and acquire knowledge about the basic and clinical sciences" (p. 53). Problem-based learning is distinguished from other problem-centered methods such as the case method, in that the problem provides the motivation for learning the basic concepts (Berliner, 1998). The problem is presented before the learner is exposed to the subject or content knowledge. Learning proceeds from the "need to know" in order to solve the problem. Many of the benefits claimed for PBL are rooted in this concept. However, before discussing the benefits, a detailed description of a typical PBL process is appropriate.

The process begins when an authentic problem is presented to a small group of students. The group size is generally four to seven students; however, variations for large groups do exist (Rangachari, 1996; Woods, 1996). In addition to authentic, problems should be complex and ill-structured (Barrows, 1994; Koschmann, Kelson, Feltovich, & Barrows, 1996; Stepien & Pyke, 1997). Once students are presented with the problem, they follow an analysis process of determining what they, collectively, know about the problem and what they need to know to solve the problem. Students are then expected to individually use resources they discover for themselves, to acquire the knowledge required for solving the problem. The knowledge needs assessment, selection of resources, and knowledge acquisition is self-directed learning. The group reconvenes to share their individually acquired knowledge and continue the problem solving activity. This assesses—acquire—share cycle repeats until a satisfactory solution is achieved. A key element required for learning is a reflection activity that concludes the PBL process. This last stage consists of self and peer evaluation of abilities as problem-solvers, self-directed learners, and as members of the group (Barrows, 1994, pp. 70-6).

Effective problem-based learning methods do not rely on students to follow the process described above without direction and support. Tutors provide guidance and direction by working closely with each small group during the problem identification, learning issues definition, and reflection activities. An important characteristic of the tutor’s role is its emphasis on the processes rather than the subject matter content necessary to address the problem. The tutor’s primary role must be guiding students through the use of metacognitive skills needed for the problem at hand and for future practice. "This concept of metacognitive thinking skills provides the key to the positive, active role of the tutor" (Barrows, 1988, p. 3). Obviously, tutors must be skilled in both the PBL process as well as reasoning skills. An interesting debate centers on the question of whether tutors should or should not be subject matter experts.

Since the development of metacognitive skills is only one goal of PBL, a discussion of PBL’s many other benefits are appropriate. The following section briefly describes the more commonly cited advantages expected from using problem-based learning.

Benefits of Problem-Based Learning

The acquisition of subject matter knowledge must be an objective, without which, problem-based learning would have limited value. Much research has been done to show that this goal is satisfied, although, slightly less well than traditional learning methods (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993). Medical schools found that many students, taught with the traditional subject-based methods, were deficient at applying or transferring their knowledge to clinical problems (Barrows, 1994). Research shows that this deficit is largely solved by the acquisition of knowledge from within the context of actual practice, that is, with problem-based learning (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993; Hmelo, Gotterer, & Bransford, 1997).

Coupled with the ability to use knowledge in practice is the development of reasoning skills in problem solving. PBL students demonstrate a higher hypothesis-driven reasoning ability than data-driven reasoning (Hmelo et al., 1997). This characteristic, also termed think-ahead reasoning, is important in eliminating extraneous data during problem solving. While most research in the problem-solving aspect of PBL has focused on the cognitive processes, little solid evidence exists to conclusively say that PBL develops better problem-solving skills (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993; Hmelo et al., 1997).Several additional expected benefits of problem-based learning are found in the following quote from Barrows (1988):

Students must acquire, through practice, well-developed metacognitive skills to monitor, critique and direct the development of their reasoning skills as they work with life’s ill-structured problems; to analyze the adequacy of their knowledge and to direct their own continued learning. (p. 3).

Not only do we expect PBL to aid in the development of metacognitive skills, but it should also aid in the development of self-directed learning (SDL) skills.

Adults reportedly prefer to be self-directed learners (Cross, 1981; Knowles, 1990). Unfortunately, many students, adults included, lack either the skills or motivation to function as self-directed learners. Development of self-directed learners is a purported benefit of the problem-based learning experience (Barrows, 1994; Dolmans, Schmidt, & Gijselaers, 1995; Ryan, 1993; Taylor, 1986). The PBL process provides ample opportunity for students to experience self-directed learning under the initial guidance of the tutor. Limited research in this area neither confirms nor refutes PBL’s ability to develop successful self-directed learners.

Required Attributes for Successful Problem-Based Learning

The literature on problem-based learning reveals many different variations that claim to be PBL. However, as previously noted, Charlin et al. (1998) assert that all PBL:

1. requires a problem as the stimulus for learning,

2. Is not an isolated instructional technique, but an educational approach, and

3. Is a student-centered approach.

These we will assume are necessary as the bare minimum required attributes for problem-based learning. These may allow us to distinguish between PBL and non-PBL implementations. Charlin et al. (1998) also defined variations of practice for different dimensions in PBL practice.

Of course with advantages go disadvantages, and Harwell and McCampbell (2002) outline what they see as some of the more obvious disadvantages of PBL for the teacher. These includes such difficulties as being more time-consuming than traditional methods; the reliance on developing the ‘proper’ problem to be solved to ensure success; and the fact that alternative methods of student assessment and course evaluation may need to be considered and developed.

Nevertheless, for many teachers PBL is a new and exciting prospect particularly in light of the research findings by Sobral (1995) who claims that his “ results reinforce the idea that problem-based learning, even in a single-course experience, may enhance the emotional well-being of the participants and the quality of the learning environment”. This consideration of the students’ self-perception of the quality of the learning experience is particularly apt as it is in line with the objectives of this research. O’Hanlon et al (1995) similarly review student evaluation of a PBL programme and conclude that while the student participants were highly motivated by the PBL approach, overall they actually favoured the more traditional approach. The researchers suggest that this may be due to unfamiliarity with the PBL method and suggest that a period of ‘acclimatisation’ may be beneficial. In a test of the examination performance of PBL medical students as compared to other medical students, Researchers have suggested that while the PBL students failed to perform as well as the traditional students, the underlying cause might lie with the approach rather than the process itself (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993; O’Hanlon et. al., 1995).On the other hand, Lieux (1996) discovered that PBL and traditional students in a food and nutrition course fared equally well in exams with the PBL students displaying a significantly higher attendance rate throughout the course.

Perhaps, what this canon of literature serves to prove is that because PBL is essentially in its infancy, the transition from traditional pedagogues to PBL classroom activities needs to be carefully negotiated as the benefits to the student may be more hidden and less amenable to conventional evaluation processes than traditional approaches. Yet, precisely because it is in its infancy it deserves and requires further research and until then it will merely function as an adjunct to conventional pedagogues albeit an increasingly popular one. What is clear is that the methodologies and tools employed in classrooms are no longer considered to be sacrosanct but open to transformation. Many could suggest that the classrooms themselves are equally facing a period of transition and transformation.

With this framework, we will be able to address problem-based learning using the Web as the medium of delivery. The Internet course management system is used here as a supplement for traditional PBL instruction. The next section discusses attempts to use student of an online course management system that would transform the structure and the function of the classroom.


Changes in levels of global demands and the profiles of students have led to an increasing emphasis on the use of flexible methods of course delivery in education and as part of that trend there is increasing interest in the use of communication and information technologies (CIT). The availability of flexible learning resources has in turn led to the increased use of flexible delivery methods based on CIT for high school students. Teaming and collaboration means cooperative interaction between two or more individuals working together to solve problems, create novel products, or learn and master content (Peterson, 1995). Why collaborate and team? Because cooperative interaction is essential for survival in today's fast-paced, complex world ( Davis , 1996).

Information and communications technologies have transformed other sectors of society including medicine, finance and manufacturing, and as suggested by Dede (1998), and they thus have the potential to revolutionize traditional educational infrastructures. The 1990’s were characterized by rapid change, marked by the onset of a global economy, significant advancements in technology and the increasing impact of the World Wide Web. Concomitantly, learning environments also experienced change and some of those changes are illustrated by Papert (1998). These range from the increased use of computers in the classroom for personal productivity to the development of authentic educational technologies becoming infused into the curricula. Likewise the current trend of inventing new visions of education in the digital world rather than continuing to apply computer technology to traditional settings began during this period. It could thus be safe to say that the age of online learning has dawned.

Online education or e learning may be defined as an approach to teaching and learning that utilizes Internet technologies to communicate and collaborate in an educational context. An example of such technology is the Internet course management system ‘’ used throughout this research. Online education includes technology that supplements traditional classroom education with web-based components and learning environments where the entire educational process is mediated online. There is a wealth of literature dealing with Internet mediated teaching and learning, and it is only possible given the word limitations of this study, to review some of the relevant literature. While most of this literature referred to third level education and/or distance education, aspects are relevant to second level education and traditional classroom delivered/Internet hybrid courses. Before looking at how such technologies can impact on the learning process it is pertinent to define what I mean by the learning process.

As expected for such a complex and subjective area, educational researchers fail to reach a consensus regarding what constitutes learning and what does not, as maintained by Carr-Chellman and Duchastel (2000). They advance the view that learning, at its most fundamental, is a process of transformation of knowledge that occurs through the interaction of an individual with information in that individual’s environment. Working with that definition of learning, instruction becomes the fashioning of the learner’s environment to optimize information interaction, and hence learning. I believe that Course Management Systems can provide enhanced opportunities to fashion that environment and thus increased and varied opportunities for information interaction heretofore unavailable and this research attempts to explore that hypothesis. The earlier definition of learning in turn essentially defines teaching as a matter of guidance; matching individual student needs to appropriate information at the right time.

Consequently, learning is process and not product. Understanding cannot be taught or given from the teacher to the student; it belongs to and is owned by the student. Similarly, understanding cannot be gleaned from technology, but by interacting with information via technology. Recent studies on learning, for example Poole (2001), suggest that at all stages of the learning process, teaching is the key. Not teaching where the teacher is the source of knowledge, but teaching where the teacher prepares the environment in which learning will take place. This is echoed in Brookfield ’s (1986) assertion that the teacher’s role in the learning process is to create the climate for learning. Bearing that in mind and in terms of this research, the better the teacher is trained in the use of technology for instruction, the more effective computer-based learning will be. In an ideal online course, Carr-Chellman and Duchastel (2000) argue that an openness of structure should encourage initiative and independent interaction, provide much learner control and hence have the potential to optimize the necessary matching of needs with resources.

Carr-Chellman and Duchastel (2000) also believe that trying to define an ideal online course is a risky business for several reasons; learning and instructional theory is fragile at this moment in time and online courses are themselves fairly new. Yet they are evolving very rapidly with increasing possibilities for learner-information interaction. New technologies (video streaming, virtual reality) being developed at present could make present virtual learning environments primitive looking within a matter of years (Carr-Chellman and Duchastel, 2000). However, I feel that use of online courses can only bolster existing educational practice. It is merely a question of determining how to get the best from them. Fortunately, Gilbert (2001) raises two questions that can guide educators as they adopt ICT into teaching and learning. By considering what are the most important results that you want to gain from adopting this technology, both for your students and yourself as well as what do you cherish most and not want to lose (for your institution), teachers can perhaps get the most from the new technologies. He goes on to state there is no Moore ’s Law for learning and that, unlike technology, it will not double its performance in eighteen months. Changes in learning will be slow and without a commitment to the above goals, technology will be adopted, but will not result in what we hoped for. This is in accord with Conlon (2002) who, in reference to Cuban’s (2001) book Oversold & Underused: Computers in the Classroom, believes much more reflection about education in the modern era is required. Pedagogy and curriculum, indeed the whole philosophy of education should be addressed, before we start specifying hardware, software and Virtual Learning Environment configurations. Others such as Figuera and Huie (2001) carry the conjecture further, stating that in order for online learning to be effective, teachers must hold a belief system that is compatible with the constructivist approach to learning. With that in mind, it is important to examine the PBL + Multi Media production approach to teaching and learning and its relevance to this research.

By working on a PBL project, students collaborate to construct physical objects, multimedia presentations, computer programs, Web sites, and videos. This section examines the role of the multimedia (MM) artifacts in involving students in construction their own knowledge about important subject matter and transformation of that knowledge as it is refined and revised (Thomas, 2000). The project artifact should be explicit and observable, something the learners can discuss. Knowledge becomes something students devise (Perkins, 1986). It is a structure that has a purpose, can be given a model and can be evaluated. In a collaborative classroom, there develops a distributed expertise, and an “atmosphere of joint responsibility, mutual respect, and a sense of personal and group identity” (Brown & Campione, 1996, p. 313).


The consequential task, that is construction of an artifact or performance that illustrates understanding, is a “ploy” to “trap students into thinking deeply” (Brown & Campione, 1996, p.302). It is a motivator, a hook, to involve and sustain them in the work that it takes to understand and communicate.

The emergence of multimedia technologies has made it very possible for learners to become involved in their work. With multimedia technologies, they can create multimedia applications as part of their project requirements. This would make them active participants in their own learning process, instead of just being passive learners of the educational content. It also fosters collaborative and cooperative learning between and among students, thus better preparing them with a skill set for real life work situations (Roblyer & Edwards, 2000).

With multimedia projects, students can make use of the knowledge presented to them by the lecturer, and represent them in a more meaningful way, using different media elements. These media elements can be converted into digital form and modified and customized for the final project. By incorporating digital media elements into the project, students are able to learn better since they use multiple sensory modalities, which would make them more motivated to pay more attention to the information presented and better retain the information ( Norman , 1993) . Therefore, multimedia application design offers new insights into the learning process of the designer and forces him or her to represent information and knowledge in a new and innovative way (Agnew, Kellerman & Meyer, 1996).

This constructivist based learning environment is created to empower these students to become autonomous, independent learners involved in their own learning process, as well as to develop their skills in problem solving, and to exercise analytical, critical and creative thinking in their work. The project is in line with the constructivist position in that multiple perspectives to an authentic problem can be developed, the use of multiple modes such as audio, graphics and video is encouraged, and students can actively participate to provide their own solutions to the problem (Cunningham, Duffy & Knuth, 1993). Thus, by designing a multimedia project, students are challenged to learn more about their chosen subject material and to develop their abilities to organize, analyze and synthesize their work in a group setting.

This literature review depicts some of the features of a virtual PBL project that is likely to succeed in helping motivate my students through the creation of MM artifacts. Although there are different ways of viewing what constitutes project-based learning, I will adopt the important characteristics described by other authors (especially Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Soloway, 1994) and focus on these five:

  • A driving question or problem that sets the scene for the project
  • Student construction of a MM artifact and presentation to a non-classroom audience
  • Student collaborative research often over an extended period of time
  • Use of technology-base cognitive and asynchronous and synchronous communication tools (online course management system)

Motivation is sometimes a means to educational achievement. In one review of research, the many correlations between measures of motivation and achievement averaged about +.34 indicating that high levels of motivation and high levels of achievement tend to go hand in hand (Walber, 1986). But motivation is also an end itself, one of the purposes of teaching. Interests and values of various kinds are outcomes of schooling that we try to foster. So motivation is peculiar in that it is both a means and an end to instruction.

Motivation is what energizes, directs, and maintains our behaviour. It is what teachers use to explain how a student performs the same task in different ways under different conditions; and why students with the same aptitude and learning history perform the same task differently.


Although increasing students' subject-matter understandings and competencies may be the most important goals of instruction, it is widely understood that students' attention, effort, and engagement in academic tasks is a critical intervening variable in determining whether those outcomes are attained. In fact, the widespread appeal of designing computer-based activities for students is at least partly due to teachers' accumulating experience that students are generally more "on-task" and express more positive feelings when they use computers than when they are given other tasks to do.

Achievement in these science high school classes determines future curricular choices and enrollment in higher level science courses. These curricular opportunities and choices influence access to postsecondary and occupational opportunities (Reynolds, 1991). Furthermore, the courses in science are sequential, making performance in these subjects in high school critical for later access to advanced courses and success in the full array of science courses at the university level.

Researchers have suggested that achievement in science in secondary school is a function of many interrelated variables: students' ability, attitudes and perceptions, socioeconomic variables, parent and peer influences, school-related variables, and so forth. Many of these variables are home- and family-related and thus are difficult to change and are outside the control of educators.

However, there are school-related variables such as students'-(a) academic engagement, (b) perceptions and attitudes, and (c) knowledge of the role of mathematics/science achievement in future career opportunities that can be influenced and are amendable to change by educational interventions. Thus, science has attracted serious attention in recent years. A substantial body of research has accumulated in the last 2 decades that has examined the correlates of success in academic achievement in science in particular. Attitudinal and affective variables such as self-concept, confidence in learning science, science interest and motivation, and self-efficacy have emerged as salient predictors of achievement in science. these factors also predict science avoidance on the part of students, which affects long-term achievement and career aspirations in the science fields (Eccles & Jacobs, 1986; Helmke, 1989; Reynolds & Walberg, 1992). Walberg (1981) advanced a theory of educational productivity on the basis of 120 research syntheses of over 2000 studies (Fraser, Walberg, Welch & Hattie, 1987). They reported that besides family and home environment, motivational variables and instructional time have the largest effects on student achievement. Other researchers reported that academic time correlates with achievement (Good, 1983; Good & Beckerman, 1978; Peterson & Fennema, 1985). Interest in a subject is also related to motivation and learning (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995).

Recent research has further supported the influence of affective and attitudinal variables in learning. Attitudes toward science were shown to be predictive of academic performance in science (Reynolds & Walberg, 1992; Thormdike-Christ, 1991). Finally, individuals'own experiences and expectations of success in science also determine their attitudes and motivation toward learning these subjects. Skaalvik (1994) and Skaalvik and Rankin (1995) found that motivation is correlated with achievement and academic performance. Positive cognitive outcomes are most likely to occur when learning is self-directed and intrinsically motivated (Ryan, Connell, & Deci, 1985). Furthermore, researchers have found that motivation leads to engagement in academic tasks, which is related to achievement (Banks, McQuater, & Hubbard, 1978; DeCharms, 1984; Dweck, 1986). Academic engagement has been variously defined as active involvement, commitment, and attention as opposed to apathy and lack of interest (Newmann, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992). Doing homework, coming prepared for classes, regular attendance, not skipping classes reflect student engagement and motivation. Motivation and academic engagement may have a reciprocal relationship. Motivation affects engagement in academic tasks and engagement further enhances interest and motivation. Both motivation and academic engagement further leaning. Regardless of other factors, students may invest or withdraw from learning depending on their interest in the subject matter (Hidi, 1990). Interest in specific subjects is also related to learning subject matter. The accumulated research evidence suggests that motivation, attitudes, interest, and academic engagement seem to be critical constructs related to learning.

One important reason for the continued interest in exploring the relationship of the affective variables to learning is that as important as students' cognitive abilities and their home background variables are in the prediction and explanation of achievement in science, these variables are not easily amenable to change. The affective and motivational factors (such as self-worth) have the potential of being enhanced and modified by new and innovative curricular and instructional approaches to teaching and leaning (PBL, MM production, and Computer-based classroom).

Classroom structure affects student’s self-concept. In the 1980's, Stanford professor Mark Lepper pointed to the likely motivational impact of certain uses of computers as classroom learning tools. His examination of the theoretical literature on intrinsic motivation suggested several ways that computer-based learning activities might lead to increased student engagement on academic tasks. First, to the extent that computer activities provide intellectual challenge, they motivate students to seek a solution to a problem. Second, computer activities that stimulate human curiosity or a desire to resolve an incongruity generate similar effort. And third, computer work that provides a sense of independent control and mastery over an environment also provokes sustained and intense effort (Lepper, 1985). Lepper further raised the proposition that active, self-directed, inductive, and exploratory computer activities might result in increased student learning, not just for the best students, but for a broad range of students, although he also cited cautionary warnings in the literature about less-than-satisfactory outcomes for less motivated students or less capable pupils (Lepper and Chabay, 1985).

Qualitative research on computer-rich environments have generally supported the idea that project-based work with computers is highly engaging for students. Sandholtz and her associates, studying a rich supply of reflective audiotape journals and written reports of teacher-participants in the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) program (1985-1991), found broad evidence of increased student engagement in academic work. They found that students often went beyond the requirements of their assignments and explored new computer applications and developed application-related skills on their own initiative.

They found that students came in before school and stayed after school to work on the class' computers—and the researchers stressed that these were "quite ordinary" students, not those who were otherwise academic stars. Anecdotes included a comment about a student staying after class to discuss a programming language: "Do you know how unusual it is for a student to stay after class to discuss content?" (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, and Dwyer, 1997; p. 93)

In Means and Olson (1995) case studies of 17 intensive computer-using classes at nine reform-oriented schools during 1991-93, she found that "the most common—in fact, nearly universal—teacher-reported effect on students was an increase in motivation (Means and Olson, 1995). In some cases, teachers felt the improvement was in terms of students' effort at learning the specific subject matter of the class. In other cases, the perceived improvement in motivation was more general—a "sense of accomplishment" gained from working with computers. These perceptions were supported by the researchers' own observations during their field visits. As in the ACOT study, this investigation attributed the improved student effort to how computers were being used in the studied classes—for project work in cooperative teams, where the teacher had become a co-learner rather than the primary source of knowledge for students.

Consistent with teacher reports and these qualitative case studies, small quantitative project implementation studies have also found improved motivation on the part of students using computers for product-oriented projects such as designing informative multimedia or hypermedia presentations (e.g., Lehrer, 1993; Liu, 1998). Lehrer, for example, found students volunteering to work on a hypermedia authoring activity during their study hall, after school, and on both Saturday and Sunday (the latter in order to meet a competition deadline).

Based on most of the data and results collected from a variety of research, reports, literature reviews and articles, students become more intrinsically engaged in activities integrated with substantive content objectives, work related to complex projects, “authentic” work done for an audience, and design and construction of multimedia and hypermedia information products.



The study of the effects of PBL, MM artifact production, and the online course management system on student motivation is a very complex undertaking. Especially that most of the evaluators and researchers did not take into consideration all the wide range of variables that are mentioned above.

Although case studies and curriculum-development projects often report motivation outcomes for students, there is little descriptive evidence about the relationship between various patterns of PBL, MM artifact production, the online course management system (CMS) and student motivational outcomes

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