One of the greatest challenges for an instructor in a PBL unit is to adapt to the role of facilitator. Traditionally, teachers are used to being what’s often referred to as “the sage on the stage” – the disseminator of knowledge who stands at the front of the room and teaches. In a PBL experience, that environment simply doesn’t work. The role of the instructor will change to be more of a facilitator, helping guide students through their own inquiries, discoveries, and learning. During a PBL project, there may be a couple of times that require direct, whole-group instruction by the teacher, but that should not be the norm. Generally, students should be working in groups on their various approaches to solving the problem presented in the Driving Question. The teacher should continually monitor the progress of each group (and student), offering suggestions and guidance to keep them on track, focused on the task at hand, and scaffolding as appropriate to make sure that everyone has access to the information necessary to complete all parts of the project.
As an effective facilitator, the teacher must help to motivate a group, build consensus, manage any issues that come up within groups, maintain focus, generate ownership, and inspire action. These skills apply not only to teachers in a facilitator role, but really are skills that an effective teacher should have in any teaching capacity. The difference is mainly in the mindset the teacher must adopt, and it may take some time for a teacher to become completely comfortable and break the old teaching habits and routines they’re used to. One of the major differences that may be challenging is the amount of preparation that must go into this type of learning experience – the teacher must have prepared various types of learning materials, aides, and resources to be available to students because they’ll all be able to tackle problems in a way of their own choosing and the teacher must have planned ahead for that. The students will need some structure and it may take time for them to get used to this new sort of learning environment as well, and the teacher should keep that in mind. It may be very disconcerting and even confusing for some students who are used to a direct-instruction model and are now expected to take far more responsibility for their own learning. The benefits that both the students and teachers will reap will make this all worthwhile as students develop the competencies and skills to be successful in this type of learning environment.