• Vol. 36 No. 9, 743–750
  • 15 September 2007

A Study on the Personal Traits and Knowledge Base of Taiwanese Medical Students Following Problem-based Learning Instructions

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ABSTRACT

Introduction: Problem-based learning (PBL), a pedagogic concept using a student-centred approach and problem-solving through small group discussions, has been adopted in varying degrees for years at all 11 medical institutes in Taiwan. Much evidence has shown that a number of factors can seriously affect student performance in PBL courses, such as the design of PBL scenarios, the tutors’ character and students’ attitudes and efforts. Materials and Methods: The aim of this study was to examine how the personal characters or knowledge base of Taiwanese medical students influence their performance in a hybrid-PBL curriculum. A total of 309 (234 male, 75 female) high-school entry undergraduate medical students participated in this survey. Self-assessed personal traits were presented in a 44-item questionnaire with a Big Five factor structure. Knowledge base was assessed by students’ score point average (SPA) based on their previous 4-year education in medical school. Peer-assessed performance of students in the PBL curriculum was carried out using a well-developed, reliable and validated evaluation form. Results: Each student’s peer-evaluated PBL performance can be divided into 5 principal components, which included control-lead, assist-coordinate, written organisation and compromise-comply (Eigen value >1). The consistency and reliability of the Big Five questionnaire on personal traits was analysed and discordant items were deleted (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.72 to 0.86 after deletion). The relationship between the personal traits, knowledge base and PBL performance, as analysed by simple regression, showed that “extraversion” and “openness to experience” were positively related to the “assist-coordinate” characteristic in PBL performance, and “conscientiousness” was positively related to the “control-lead” characteristic in PBL performance. The SPA was positively related to the “assist-coordinate” or “control-lead” characteristic in PBL performance. The “agreeableness” was negatively correlated with the “control-lead” characteristic in PBL performance. After stepwise regression between the Big Five and each component of PBL performance, only the correlation between conscientiousness and control/lead, and between extraversion and assist/coordinate remained significant. Conclusion: Knowledge and personality characteristics appear to be associated with student performance in a hybrid-PBL curriculum. The implications of this study on the future development and application of this assessment tool in medical schools are presented.


Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centred educational approach which encourages students to explore, inquire, explain, analyse, exchange, debate and manage information using relevant content-related scenarios as triggers for learning in a small group environment.1,2 While the purpose of PBL is to gain new knowledge, its spin-off benefit is the acquisition of problem-solving skills.3 Therefore, a PBL tutor plays the role of a facilitator, who encourages cooperative learning and serves as a “ guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage”.4

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