Designing Problem-Driven Instruction with Online Social Media

reviewed by Christina Dokter - September 14, 2012

coverTitle: Designing Problem-Driven Instruction with Online Social Media
Author(s): Kay Kyeung-Ju Seo & Debra A. Pellegrino (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617356441, Pages: 184, Year: 2011
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This book asks, “How can an instructor meet the next generation of learners on a level that engages the student yet enhances learning at the same time?” (p. vii). To answer this question, this book integrates three essential themes common in education circles: student-centered learning, engaging students by using tools and artifacts, and authentic assessment.

Ever since Barr and Tagg (1995) set the stage for learning-centered education, educational philosophers have been espousing a turn from the teacher as “sage on the stage” to teacher as a facilitator of learning. This usually means students own their learning by creating projects and solving problems related to the materials that the instructor assigns them.   In this book, problem-based instruction (PBI) or problem-based learning (PBL) is the context for student-centered learning.

To foster motivation in such learning, the instructor must focus on students’ interests.  Today’s students are wedded to online social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook.  So, this book is an attempt to meet the needs of the next generation of learners who are driven by social media usage, and engage them to learn together within the context of real-life problems using media familiar to them.

Lastly, through the problem solving process, students engage in authentic, real-life scenarios, which match the work-world they will face.  Thus, evaluation of learning is based on authentic assessment-or assessment that matches real-life work settings.

The audience for the book includes K-12 teachers as well as instructors of higher education.  By the end of this book, readers are well informed about using social media tools for classroom and other teaching and should be able to transfer the examples given in each chapter into their own teaching practices.  Some chapters dwell extensively on learning theories.  This book is intended to educate instructors as well as serve as a periodic reference manual for teaching.

The book is divided into four units.  Unit 1 provides an overview of the book, covering various web 2.0 tools for communication, collaboration, multimedia, and virtual worlds.  It encourages the instructor to apply learning with new technologies despite the demands on time and the need to overcome their trepidation of new technology.  The central idea is that students become more engaged with technology.  The chapter then explains problem-based learning, its theory and its potential when coupled with online social media (OSM) such as Facebook, Wikis, VoiceThread and other OSM tools-- and the educators’ ever present need to keep up with their students.  

Unit 2 discusses examples of social media tool usage in K-12 settings.   Unit 3 is devoted to similar learning constructs in higher education.  Unit 4 moves into service learning and global contexts.

The book is written in a somewhat informal style so that instructors of all disciplines can read and understand this book.  The various authors in the book present examples of teaching with social media in terms of action research, case examples, or by presenting a guide for using certain technologies.  Each chapter presents a summary with suggestions for further work and research.  For example, Chapter Two was about using Twitter to reenact various historical events.  The authors interviewed the teacher and observed how students were learning history with Twitter.  They were enacting history through role-playing various historical characters as they entered short sentences into Twitter.  They conclude with ways to overcome challenges and suggestions for future research.

Chapter Four exemplifies case explorations.  The authors explore Wikis in problem-based instruction (PBI) for higher education.  Problem-based instruction is defined as students working in teams for resolving authentic, real-life problems through the process of social negotiation.  Students also exercise team leadership, dialogue, and conflict negotiation.  This chapter advises the reader on how to carry out successful PBI by: 1) the use of authentic problems, 2) students use of the knowledge base from the course, 3) continuously monitoring of assessment, 4) effectively fostering group collaboration, and 5) by emphasizing performance based assessments (p. 69). The authors move into the use of Wikis as a tool for such collaborative problem solving for brainstorming sessions, group discussions, knowledge-base creation, and collaborative writing.  A Wiki provides an easy display of group thinking through its ability to show the editing history and promotes “shared understanding of experience and learning” (p. 70). The authors then give 5 case examples of how Wiki pages were used by explaining what the instructor did, how the Wiki was set up, the activities that were assigned and how the students were graded.  The cases showed that the use of Wikis in these cases was successful, for the most part, but that students did not always prefer to use the Wiki as a tool when other tools were available (such as face-to-face meetings).  The chapter outlines the essentials of designing problem-based instruction with Wikis by using the term, P3A, which stands for preparation, pedagogy, participation and assessment.  In all these phases, the importance of the tracking feature in the Wiki is mentioned as a scaffolding tool for monitoring, providing feedback and assessment of participation as well as content knowledge.

From the outline of Chapter Four above, readers can see that this book gives an in depth look at both problem based learning and teaching with social media tools.  In each chapter, readers will find details about the theories and methods behind problem based learning, step by step instruction and advice about how to apply problems in instruction, and case examples of how others have used PBL with social media.  As such, readers will find this to be a rich information source for problem-based learning.

The only weakness of the book is that it fails to address the concept of technology diffusion in learning.  For example, not all students, and certainly not all faculty, are adept with all OSM, and certainly not all tools are convenient for learning.  For example, in the overview section, the authors briefly address the pitfalls of Second Life in terms of fear of using technology, but the reality is that for most people, it takes a lot of time to sign up for Second Life, build their own avatar, and acclimate to the environment. Tool use for novelty sake will wear off quickly.  But tool use that is naturally adopted stays with us for a long time.  Thus, the beginner and the luddites among us may still need some prodding to pick up such a book.  Moreover, some instructors who have yet to explore social media may find that they need to see examples of how others use these media by sitting down with someone at a computer first.  It may be too abstract to read about what these tools can do without actually seeing or trying out the programs.  That said, some chapters do provide links to websites that could expand this knowledge.


Barr, R. B. and J. Tagg (1995, Nov/Dec). From teaching to learning - A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, 13-25.  

Wright, Hartman, (2010). Use of Second Life in K-12 and Higher Education: A Review of Research. Journal of Interactive Online Learning. Vol.9, No. 1. Spring.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 14, 2012 ID Number: 16871, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 6:19:14 PM

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