How nursing students perform in problem-based learning tutorials-A South African perspective

Melanie Lack, Judith C. Bruce


Background: Problem-based learning tutorials are considered the main vehicle for nursing students to acquire the skills needed to deal with the complexities of nursing practice. How students’ perform in these tutorials is an important measure of their learning development and skill acquisition.

Purpose: The purpose of this two phased study was to determine and compare the performance of undergraduate nursing students in Problem-based Learning (PBL) tutorials using a validated evaluation instrument. In Phase-1 of the study the instrument was validated which led to the development of the computer-based: Tutorial Performance Evaluator (TPE). In Phase-2 the performance of undergraduate nursing students in PBL tutorials was assessed and described through the use of this instrument by the students and their facilitators.

Methods: A cross-sectional, comparative design was used employing two sample sets: the first sample consisted of a cross-section of the total population of undergraduate nursing students (N = 53) in their first-year to fourth-year of study in a four year Bachelors degree. The second sample comprised the total population of facilitators (N = 6), who were directly involved in facilitating PBL tutorials. A computer-based TPE with seven main-items (skills) and 34 sub-items was used to elicit data on students’ self-assessment and facilitator-assessment of tutorial performance. Mean tutorial performance scores were calculated; correlations were drawn between student and facilitator scores and comparisons were made between the different years of study and within the main items to evaluate progress in skill acquisition.

Results: Major findings included notable differences between facilitator-assessment and self-assessment together with a poor performance in all seven constructs on the evaluation instrument amongst first-year students. There was a significant improvement in the mean tutorial performance score from 27% in first-year students to 87% in fourth-year students.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that first-year students struggle with PBL and a recommendation is to consider alternative educational strategies to prepare first year students for PBL.


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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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