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Determine the effectiveness of
problem-based learning in a
Counselor Education course

Kimberly R. Hall

Committed to excellence in the preparation and continuing development of professionals in the field of education, the School of Education promotes lifelong learning and inquiry that extends general knowledge to the application and improvement of practice. The Department of Counselor Education, located within the School of Education, specifically prepares counselors with specialized knowledge and skills required for placement in elementary, middle, and high schools in the commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the nation. Consistent with the goals and values of the School of Education, the Department’s goal is to graduate students who demonstrate: (a) knowledge of basic counseling theory and practice; (b) skills in providing essential counseling services; (c) the ability to evaluate relevant research; and (d) commitment to evaluating counseling interventions.

In an effort to meet these goals and values, classroom instruction must become more active, student-centered, and focused on current issues. Studies conducted in traditional classroom settings reveal that students are not able to remember educational material and are unable to apply knowledge to real-world situations (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993; Vernon & Blake, 1993). Students report studying for tests, quickly forgetting material, and then cramming at the end of the semester for a comprehensive final exam. With such high priority being given to standardized testing, teachers must adapt their methods to teach students not only content knowledge but also critical thinking skills. In order to meet the challenges of the future, education must begin providing students with the skills that are necessary for successful careers.

Problem-based learning (PBL) may be one paradigm shift that could meet this demand. With roots in medical education, PBL is a teaching philosophy that encourages the application of knowledge, integration of subject matter, and transference to the world of work (Chickley, 1998; D’Agostino, 1997; Delisle, 1997; Glasgow, 1997; Jarvis, Hofford, & Griffin, 1998). By working in small groups, students uncover solutions to real-world problems (Barrows, 2000a; Neufeld & Barrows, 1974; Schmidt, 1993), such as developing intervention strategies for various student problems, developing assessment instruments for evaluating counseling services, or designing a comprehensive school counseling program. Students discuss details and possible solutions for a presented problem, individually research specific issues relevant to the identified problem, reconvene after this period of independent research, and then collaboratively discuss their research findings and possible solutions to the problem.


The primary purpose of this project was to determine the effectiveness of PBL in a Counselor Education course when compared to traditional educational strategies. Further research will explore the effectiveness of PBL as a counseling tool. Since PBL requires multiple resources, this project also included the development of a resource room for counselor educators, students in the school counseling program, and professional school counselors in the surrounding Richmond area.

Impact of the Project

This project initially affected 55 students enrolled in the CLED 606 course, Assessment Methods in Counseling. Additional faculty in the Department of Counselor Education also agreed to utilize PBL in other courses throughout the program. As these faculty members begin to utilize PBL, this project will begin to affect all of the students in the Department of Counselor Education (80-100 students) annually.

The addition of the resource room affected all students in our program (80-100 students), faculty, and local school counselors. This resource room has enabled students to adequately research problem statements and further enhance their development as counseling professionals. Other faculty members and instructors will also benefit from the resource room, as additional materials will be available to assist in structuring course assignments and designing new problem statements.  Professional school counselors in the Richmond area will also be encouraged to utilize these resources.

Funding from the Center for Teaching Excellence enabled me to present the results of this project and to gain new knowledge of teaching strategies in the counseling field. I was also able to train school counselors in the Richmond area and students in the school counseling program on the use of PBL in group counseling and classroom guidance. This training has ultimately affected numerous K-12 students in the Richmond area through the implementation of PBL in these areas.

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Last modified: June 20, 2013
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