The use of contextualised problem-based learning in enhancing student’s understanding of issues around a so-called ‘messy problem’; the development and imposition of laws relative to animal welfare

Roger Cutting
Presentation date

This paper presents an evaluation of the use of contextualised problem-based learning (PBL) in the context of the law and animal welfare. Generally, law is taught through the transmission of information, however in PBL, discussions and analyses are integral rather than conclusory to learning. As a curriculum approach, it is becoming increasingly common to use problem scenarios in facilitating awareness of legal issues and to engage interest by highlighting the real-world ramifications. Furthermore, such an approach allows students to become active in their own learning and promotes the development of decision-making abilities through the identification and analysis of real problems. This may be particularly apposite in developing skills for addressing certain kinds of seemingly intractable policy problems. Such an approach was adopted as part of a teaching session during a ‘One World’ festival event at a UK university. The application of legal precedence to authentic problems such as animal welfare takes place across subject-matter domains and therefore allowed interdisciplinary and translational methodologies to be explored with groups of interdisciplinary graduate students.

A designed characteristic was the facilitation of evaluation and such prescience allowed multiple opportunities for observation, focus group discussion and the deployment of questionnaires. The results were generally positive in relation to student learning with a significant appreciation of the difficulties of making decisions in complex ethical contexts. However, while students reported a meaningful learning experience, the specific, identified, outcomes varied significantly. This may reflect the difficulties around focussed learning outcomes relative to such messy-problems, suggesting that the complexity of the issues promotes an allied complexity of emergent learning. It is suggested that within this deeper, complex appreciation of problems, such as those associated with animal welfare and legislation, is where PBL both fosters and facilitates the development of authoritative and ethical decision-making skills in young people.