FULL TITLE: PBL in Ecuador: Exploring Problem-Based Learning with Mobile Devices, and Teaching Practices
In this pilot study about using mobile technologies in a problem-based learning (PBL) approach, we seek to help improve teaching practices in Ecuador. Our team will pursue two objectives: First, we will develop and test problem-based learning resources for mobile devices, such as videos, intended for new teachers or students currently being trained to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Ecuador. Second, we will study the integration of mobile technologies in a problem-based learning context and the challenges of teaching to students with a variety of abilities, with this group of teachers. [Keywords: Problem-Based Learning, Mobile Devices, Teaching Practices, Ecuador]
Context and Rationale
A recent series of studies published by UNESCO (2012a, 2012b) has revealed that for Latin America, m-learning has the potential to help improve graduation rates, the level of literacy, a better access to education, education quality and teacher quality. It is mostly on the latter point that this study focuses.
An inventory of recent projects in Central America and South America (UNESCO, 2012a) has revealed that most studies focus on developing software or digital content, but there is a clear lack support for teachers, not withstanding the fact that much of this material is geared towards accessing content or communicating with people. Such use of technologies is still closely related to classical teaching where teachers provide content and guide students through a sequence of activities. To help improve practices, we should focus on the active role of the teacher in contextualizing the content for the students, tailoring the activities to meet their needs, and providing formative feedback to help students learn.
Moreover, in Ecuador, EFL has historically been identified as a priority knowledge area, and is a required subject in most schools. EFL instruction is currently guided by the Fortalecimiento del Idioma Inglés project which emphasizes an updating of the national English curriculum, professional development for current EFL teachers, and improvements to university curricula for new teachers (Ministerio de Educación de Ecuador, 2012). Despite this emphasis, EFL instruction in Ecuador remains inferior compared to other countries, with approximately 95% of EFL teachers falling short of a government-mandated passing mark on the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language Exam.
This research is original as it brings together mobile technology and problem-based learning with a group of new EFL teachers in a developing country. It is also one-of-a-kind because of the wealth of knowledge and competency that the team of researchers and collaborators from three different universities bring to this project, ranging from expertise in educational technology, educational psychology and teacher education and the association with the EILab (EILab.ca). This research will contribute to the advancement of knowledge in four ways: 1) By contributing to the understanding of the dynamics of integrating mobile-learning in a developing country; 2) By contributing to the understanding of how new teachers can implement problem-based learning; 3) By producing and validating problem-based learning resources that can be reused in other teaching contexts; 4) By developing a model of integrating mobile-learning and problem-based learning that can be used in with students with a variety of abilities. It will be of interest to researchers in education and in language studies. The concrete outcomes of this pilot study (PBL resources, training material) will benefit teachers, university students who are being trained as teachers, and elementary and secondary schools in developing countries or those in developed countries who seek to develop English as a Foreign language programs based on innovative teaching approaches.