Developing a Template for Embedding Problem-Based Learning in a Spatial Information Science (SIS) Course

PBL Implementation Graphic

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Shivanand Balram, Department of Geography

Timeframe: May to October 2008

Funding: $720

Course addressed: GEOG 250 – Cartography I

Description: In geography and sub-areas such as spatial information science (SIS), problem-based learning (PBL) has been associated with positive student learning experiences (Drennon, 2005). PBL emerged in the 1960s from the medical education research of Howard Barrows at McMaster University, Canada (Albanese and Mitchell, 1993). PBL is now widely used in many disciplines outside of medicine. In PBL, students are presented with a case or scenario and through individual and small group learning they clarify the problem, define specific questions to be answered, create possible solutions, conduct research, share results, and assess their experiences.

The goal of this teaching inquiry is to further engage undergraduate geography students in the teaching and learning process.  This inquiry will be implemented in the Cartography I (GEOG 250) course in summer 2008.  Anonymous structured feedback from students will be the main source of data collected.

My previous teaching and learning inquiries investigated the issue of engaging student learning using collaborative approaches.  The output included peer-reviewed published models for collaborative face-to-face learning and for blended learning (Balram and Dragicevic, 2008; Balram and Dragicevic, 2005).  This proposal will use PBL as a framework to synthesize my past experiences towards developing additional student-centered teaching and learning strategies.


Albanese, M. A. & Mitchell, S. (1993). Problem-based learning: a review of the literature on its outcomes and implementation issues. Academic Medicine, 68, 52-81.

Balram, S. & Dragicevic, S. (2008). Collaborative spaces for GIS-based multimedia cartography in blended environments. Computers & Education, 50, p.371-385.

Balram, S. & Dragicevic, S. (2005). An embedded collaborative systems model for implementing ICT-based multimedia cartography teaching and learning. In S. Mishra and R. C. Sharma (Eds.), Interactive multimedia in education and training (pp. 306-326). Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing.

Drennon, C. (2005). Teaching geographic information systems in a problem-based learning environment. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29(3) 385-402.

Questions addressed:

  • What components of the general PBL process should be modified for SIS courses?
  • What are the reasons SIS students provide to justify these modifications?

Knowledge sharing:

Balram, S. (2009, June). Developing a template for embedding problem-based learning in GIScience courses. Presentation at the meeting of the GeoTec Conference, Vancouver, BC.

Keywords: problem-based learning