An International Conference on Problem-Based Learning
in Higher Education

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P.K. Rangachari

P. K. Rangachari is currently a professor of medicine and the director of the Honours Biology-Pharmacology Coop Programme at McMaster University. Since joining the faculty in 1984, he has been actively involved in developing a variety of courses that foster student-centered learning through the use of PBL at both the undergraduate and graduate level. He participates regularly in workshops organized by the Programme for Faculty Development which helps train educators in PBL techniques. In addition, he has conducted workshops both in Canada as well as abroad. He has written a number of papers on PBL and is a co-author of the book Problem-Based Learning in Medicine (Royal Society of Medicine, 1999). His personal casebook of problems can be accessed through the web at <>

To Teach and to Learn: The Past as Prologue

All educational enterprises seek to produce changes in knowledge, skills and attitudes. The production of autonomous, self-reliant, flexible, critical students can be best achieved by making them active partners in their own learning. Problem-based learning is an exciting means to that end. In fact, the teacher as an information dispenser is but a fairly recent innovation. In the arguments contrasting traditional versus problem-based learning, it is often forgotten that it is problem-based learning that is truly traditional. Great teachers in all cultures and traditions (Socrates, Gautama, Pestalozzi, Freinet, Purkyne) have realised that they can best help their students by providing them with the skills required to be autonomous. The arrival of the Internet with its capacity to provide the student with more information than they can handle has freed the teacher to return to his or her traditional role as a guide, mentor and tutor. Problem-based learning has the enormous potential to stimulate students to participate actively in their own learning and thus become life-long learners. But, for the process to work optimally, teachers must be willing to shift the locus of control and students must be willing to accept that responsibility. Flexibility is the key to success in charting a course for a PBL curriculum. To travel on the many paths to PBL requires the attitudes of hitchhikers not businesspeople. Road blocks and delays are not hindrances. Both the Journey and the Inn are rewarding.

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