Anne Marie Shier

‌Anne Marie Shier is a lecturer at the School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology.  She lectures on the BA Social Care and MA Social Care Leadership and Management.  She has been a coordinator and member of the steering committee of the SPARK social entrepreneurship awards since 2014.  Current and past research on topics including pedagogy; foster care, relative foster care, adoption, information and tracing in adoption, social entrepreneurship, supervision in social care, life skills for deaf adults and social care education and practice.  

Dave Williams

Dr Dave Williams is a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin. He lectures on the B.A Social Care, MA in Social Care Leadership and Management and MA in Child, Family and Community Studies programmes. He is the founding President of Social Care Ireland and is co-editor of the Journal of Social Care. His research interests include the topics of foster care, the professionalization of social care work and the management of challenging behaviours in social care settings. 

Using Problem Based Learning in Social Care

Hello we are Anne Marie Shier and Dave Williams and we are professional practice lecturers on the B.A (Hons.) in Social Care at the School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences.

What change/innovation have you introduced to your teaching?

Principles of Professional Practice is a module taught to Social Care students throughout the B.A Social Care Honours Degree at the Dublin Institute of Technology. The professional role and responsibilities of the social care worker are emphasised throughout this module, whilst students are encouraged to critically analyse the core theoretical frameworks, concepts and legislative instruments that impact upon their practice and development as social care workers in training. In order to prepare students for real world problem solving, students are introduced to Problem Based Learning (PBL) in the second year of their training in the Principles of Professional Practice module.    

How have you implemented this in practice?

Problem Based Learning (PBL) is combined with the Hollywood film “Precious” which is used as a case study or medium through which second year students are required to complete their PBL project. Students prepare a risk assessment and care plan for 16 year old Precious (the main character in the film) and her new born son Abdul.  Student Social Care Workers are required to research, role play and explore the roles of various agencies and professionals in a number of PBL sessions which are facilitated by the lecturers. The assessment and care plan that the students complete is combined with an individual written reflection as the continuous assessment component for this module, constructively aligning the teaching method with the assessment (Biggs, 2003).

The assignment requires students to develop a risk assessment and care plan for their client Claireece ‘Precious’ Jones and her son Abdul using the film Precious as their case study. During the project it is explained to the groups that they were to envisage themselves as a social care team working on this case. The PBL sessions are facilitated by lecturers. In this way students gain the important experience of minute taking at meetings and this also allows the group to track their progress and set goals for themselves as they advance through the PBL process. Each team member also has to act as a chairperson in order to ensure the meetings are progressing forward and so students gain an experience of chairing a meeting. Minute taking and chairing meetings are skills social care workers are regularly expected to demonstrate in practice.

Students and lecturers have to adapt to the change in role as the lecturer becomes the facilitator. This transition from lecturer to facilitator is recognised in the literature as a challenging aspect of Problem Based Learning for both lecturers and students. (Savin Baden, 2003). The title of Alison King’s 1993 article “from sage on the stage to guide on the side” illustrates the changing position of the lecturer in the PBL classroom. The facilitator’s role is a varied one but is based in the premise of supporting and encouraging learning and enquiry without being overly directive. Walsh (1995) highlights the importance of the facilitator in supporting group formation and development without directing it and Armitage (2013) emphasises the equal role of students and facilitators as co-creators of new knowledge. 

What do you think are the main benefits of this approach?

In a feedback survey of the project students were asked to compare Problem Based Learning to other forms of learning that they had experienced in their social care training. The overall feedback from the data suggests that students felt it was beneficial but more difficult. Students described ‘independent learning’, ‘reflection’, and ‘working together’ as benefits of PBL but also highlighted difficulties including ‘feeling lost’ and finding it ‘difficult to understand’. The feedback on the use of PBL as a learning tool for social care students was overall positive as participants commented on the fact that PBL allowed them to use their initiative throughout the process and allowed them to learn and share ideas and knowledge from other students in their group/team who were on work placement in different social care agencies. A large number of students appreciated the practical nature of the process and felt this helped them in relation to linking relevant theory to practice particularly in relation to researching risk assessment models and concepts related to strengths based practice approaches.


What advice do you have for colleagues considering this approach?

We found the key benefit to be the level of engagement that students experience as a result of using PBL. This engagement seems crucial in helping students develop skills relevant to their development as social care workers such as problem solving, conflict management, team work, report writing, using initiative and leadership skills. For anyone considering adopting a similar approach to their own teaching, it is important to be aware that students can struggle initially with the new dynamic of lecturer becoming facilitator and students taking a more active role in their learning. Therefore it is important that it is introduced slowly and are well prepared and supported at the beginning of the project. As with any group project, dynamics can sometimes be an issue thus continuous monitoring and facilitation is required by the lecturer to manage issues at a local level as soon as possible.