CCE Theses and Dissertations

Problem-Based Learning in Computer-Mediated Versus Face-to Face Groups: A Comparison of Learning Behaviors and Outcomes of Entry-Level Physical Therapy Students in a Module on Women's Health

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Maxine S. Cohen

Committee Member

Laurie Dringus


Constructivists have reasoned that their approach to education is suited to computer mediated communication (CMC). Problem-based learning (PBL) is a constructivist approach gaining favor in physical therapy (PT) curricula that has been minimally researched in using CMC. The purpose of this study was to describe the effects of a computer-mediated communication environment on the processes and outcomes of PBL. Thirty-four second-year PT students at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), studying a module of Women's Health (WH), were stratified by site into those at the host campus (Augusta), and those at the remote campus (AJbany). Ten students from AJbany and twenty-four from Augusta were randomly assigned to either traditional face-to-face (FTF) PBL groups (TPBL) or computer-mediated PBL groups (CMPBL). All students addressed the same stimulus problems and followed the PBL learning process comprising an introductory tutorial, self-directed learning and a second tutorial. The same content expert was available to all groups. To control for effects of confounding variables measures were taken of computer knowledge and skills, Myers-Briggs type, GRE and gender. During the learning experience students logged time-on-task, provided records of the learning issues identified during the first tutorial for each problem. At the conclusion of the module all students took a 30 question multiple-choice test (MCQ) and responded to two short answer questions (SAQs).

The two groups were comparable on gender, Myers-Briggs type, GRE and computer knowledge and skills. The CMPBL group logged significantly longer time-on-task than the TPBL group, but there were no significant differences in learning outcomes between the groups based on learning conditions. The processes of PBL as measured by hypothesis generation, learning issues identified and facts ascertained from the inquiry materials were unaffected by the learning conditions. Students in the CMPBL expressed frustration with medium. Post hoc analyses suggest individual group factors might be more significant predictors of performance than the conditions of learning (CMC vs. FTF). Recommendations based on this study relate to interface design to facilitate the PBL process and further research on group process and tutor roles in the CMC environment.

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