Relationship between small group problem-solving activity and lectures in health science curricula

Vimla L. Patel, Jose F. Arocha, Timothy Branch, Daniel R. Karlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Components of problem-based education, such as small group teaching, are being implemented in diverse health curricula. Implementation, however, is often motivated by the intuitive appeal of many problem-based learning components, when what is needed is the detailed examination of how these components support students' integration of knowledge as well as continuity of their learning experiences. This study presents an investigation of the relationship between lecture and small group teaching (SGT) in a medical curriculum. Four problem-oriented SGT sessions representing diverse topics in the first-year curriculum and their corresponding lectures were videotaped and analyzed using techniques of concept mapping, where the broad concepts from the lectures were identified and matched to the case-specific concepts in the small group sessions. The results show that lectures function as an anchor for the students' discussion of issues relevant to clinical problem-solving and interventions in small group sessions. These discussions extended to contextual aspects of clinical practice that were not dealt with in the lectures, such as ethical/cultural issues around the treatment of patients. Furthermore, small group environments were found to promote discussions that allowed the integration of information from different sources and encompassed concepts across a number of disciplines. These results suggest that carefully designed small group sessions serve the purposes of 1) illustrating broader concepts in lectures to case-specific, clinically relevant problem-solving and 2) promoting knowledge integration from diverse sources of information. The implications of these results for learning and reasoning in health science curricula are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1058-1080
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of dental education
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomedical knowledge
  • Clinical knowledge
  • Health education
  • Knowledge integration
  • Small group teaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Dentistry


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