The Virtual Mystery: Engaging students in large courses with an online hybridized problem-based learning project

The Virtual Mystery: Engaging students in large courses with an online hybridized problem-based learning project

  • Sherry Fukuzawa, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto Mississauga
  • Heather Miller, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto Mississauga
  • Michael deBraga, Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre

Abstract

The virtual mystery project is a series of online hybridized problem-based learning cases that  self-release weekly photos and clues to groups of 5-10 students through the Learning Management Engine (LME). Group members collaborate using course resources to apply theoretical learning to practical cases. Problem-based learning (PBL) uses self-directed learning to develop critical thinking through problem solving. This project is a cost effective way to give students in large courses a collaborative, small group, active learning experience.

The virtual mystery has been successfully implemented in an introductory anthropology course (N=800 students) since 2010. Student evaluations are positive and it was tested against a passive learning option in 2014 (Fukuzawa & Boyd, 2016). The problem with the project’s present iteration is large group size (50-100 students) due to the limited number of mysteries. Through this project, we will a databank (400 cases) of virtual mysteries with photos and clues using UTM’s anthropology specimen collection. This will help reduce group sizes to 5-10 students, and increase the assessment value of the virtual mystery with the submission of PBL group reports through the LME. Introductory archaeology courses will also use the mysteries, and Biology (BIO356) will create mysteries with UTM’s paleontology collection. This aligns with UTM Undergraduate Learning Expectations and Anthropology Departmental Learning Outcomes emphasizing student development of transferable skills that apply across disciplines (collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving). This project adheres to LEAF themes by applying technological tools to support active learning, and creating a PBL community of practice between disciplines to increase student engagement in large courses.