University of Limerick
OBrien_2019_Graduate.pdf (3.5 MB)

Graduate students’ perceptions of a problem-based learning (PBL) programme in a higher education institution in Ireland; exploring the function of power relations and group identity formation

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posted on 2022-09-02, 14:49 authored by Ronan F. O'Brien
Problem-based approaches to student learning in higher education have become increasingly popular in recent years predicated on the assumption that they are significantly different to traditional forms of pedagogy in that they represent a more engaging, applied, interactive and balanced distribution of power between the lecturer and the student. However, despite these claims, the extent to which these pedagogies create greater levels of student autonomy and challenge the traditional power relationships between student and lecturer is unknown. To explore this issue, this study examines the techniques of power as perceived by students enrolled in a specific business related master’s programme run using a PBL methodology and identifies ways these students identify with their programme including the methods employed to differentiate their PBL programme over and above others. Employing a qualitative interpretivist approach, 13 graduates of a part-time, PBL based, master programme in an Irish educational institute were interviewed to explore the nature of power relations between the lecturer and the student as perceived through the lived experience of the student. The study found that PBL has done little to level the perceptions of power imbalance within this higher education programme, particularly with regards to part-time students. In fact, the students are highly critical of what they perceive to be lecturer attempts to wield power using both implied and explicit means and in response these students employ several strategies attempting to increase their status in terms of power, particularly in the areas of social identity theory and tactics suggested by Tajfel and Turner (1986) to effect individual and collective Professional Mobility. A key conclusion is that the introduction of these novel forms of pedagogy within higher education, such as PBL, is not a simple process. It should be approached in a combined, integrated way where the objectives of the institute are considered with the skills and ambitions of the lecturers and needs and requirements of the local student population. While it may be desirable to launch new courses with contemporary forms of pedagogy these must be fully teased out to understand long term implications for all parties, including the necessary investment in training and resources within the specific institute to support these programmes.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

McGarr, Oliver

Second supervisor

Lynch, Raymond





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