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Characteristics of Problems in
Problem-based Learning

Nachamma Sockalingam

CHARACTERISTICS OF PROBLEMS
IN
PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING

NACHAMMA SOCKALINGAM

Copyright © 2010 N. Sockalingam
All rights reserved. No part of this thesis may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the prior written permission of the author, or where appropriate, of the publisher of the articles.

Cover design and layout by N. Sockalingam
Printed by Ultra Supplies, Singapore

Characteristics of Problems in Problem-based Learning
Eigenschappen van problemen voor probleemgestuurd leren
Thesis

to obtain the degree of Doctor from the
Erasmus University Rotterdam
by command of the
rector magnificus

Prof.dr. H.G. Schmidt

and in accordance with the decision of the Doctorate Board

The public defence shall be held on
Wednesday 20th of January 2010 at 13.30 hrs

by
Nachamma Sockalingam
born in Madurai, India

DOCTORAL COMMITTEE
Promotors:

Prof.dr. H.G. Schmidt

Other members:

Prof.dr. R.M.J.P. Rikers
Prof.dr. H.T. van der Molen
Prof.dr. S.E. Severiens

For Vignes, Krishna,
And
daddy

CONTENTS
9

Foreword
Chapter 1:

Introduction

11

Chapter 2:

Characteristics of problems in
problem-based learning: The
students‟ perspective

46

Chapter 3:

Student and tutor perceptions on
characteristics of effective
problems in problem-based
learning

74

Chapter 4:

Construct validity and reliability of
a rating scale to assess the quality
of problems in problem-based
learning

96

Chapter 5:

Stability and inter-rater reliability
in student ratings of problem
quality in PBL

111

Chapter 6:

Does the extent of problem
familiarity influence students‟
learning in problem-based
learning?

139

Chapter 7:

Summary and conclusions

157

References

206

Appendices

223

9

FOREWORD
Completion of this dissertation marks the destination of an
adventurous journey that I ventured into. As with any journey, this one has been filled with excitement, anxiety, unforeseen challenges, and sense of accomplishment. I have enjoyed the experience and have learnt a few things. I am happy to have reached this destination and to start with a new beginning.

At this juncture, I would like to thank my mentor, Professor Henk Schmidt. This journey would n ot have been possible without your guidance and support. Dear Prof. Henk, I am grateful to you for the faith that you have in me, for your kind words, and

encouragement. Your dedication to go through every word of the papers amazes me and inspires me to tr y harder. Thanks for
everything.
I would also like to thank Republic Polytechnic, with
special mention of Mr. Glen O‟ Grady, Dr. Alwis, Dr. Terence Chong, and Mr. Yeo Li Pheow for having the pioneering vision to initiate educational research in the Polytechnic, and for giving me this opportunity to pursue research work. My thanks to colleagues who joined me in this journey as well: Elaine Yew, Magdeline Lew, Jerome Rotgans, and Judith Williams.

Many others have helped me in my journey – participants,
collaborators in my research, colleagues at RP (CED and SAS), and friends. You have inspired me and motivated me. You have cheered me on and supported me. I am especially grateful to Dr. Annet te Lindert, Jovin Hurry, Kiu Cheong Mau, Dr. Noor Shabana, Padma Rao, Paul Chin, and Shawn. Thank you for all that you have done for me. I sincerely appreciate all your support. Thank you.

Last but not least, my thanks to my family: my husband,
Sockalingam, and my boys, Vignes and Krishna for their patience, love, and support. Thanks also to my mother and brother for the moral support. Special thanks to Parames for sacrificing time and

10

effort to take care of my boys so that I can focus on my work and research.
I also hope that this work has a ripple effect of inspiring
others; especially my students – to...
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