Printer Friendly

Using PBL to teach the university mission.


Faculty at institutions of higher education are charged with modeling, embedding, and advancing the mission of their institution both in and outside of the college classroom. A course embedded assessment with the objective of teaching the university mission to students in a professional graduate program is described. Results suggest that problem-based learning has the potential to be a pedagogy of formation and that the university mission can be learned and articulated by students.


A university's mission statement is a way to start the intellectual conversation about the purpose of the university and the promise the university is making to students and other stakeholders. Although made up of only a handful of sentences, a mission statement carries immense weight and responsibility (Hara, 2005). A sweep through the mission statements of major American universities reveals that institutions are places of pride, promote student success and lifelong learning, foster development of students with disciplined habits of mind, and focus on excellence. University mission statements are filled with potent words, and yet the extent to which students at any given university are capable of articulating the mission of their institution remains unknown. Is a university mission statement a string of empty words, or can it be articulated or operationalized, especially by students, and embodied in acts that really do serve society, the institution, and the students themselves?

Contemporary university landscapes around the globe are under increasing pressure to shift focus (Hoyle, 2005; Spooner & Shaw, 2005; Tynjala, Vlaimaa, & Sarja, 2003). Tynjala, Vlaimaa, and Sarja (2003) state that "The role and organization of higher education are being questioned by new student demands and a more competitive environment for universities" (p.149). Hoyle (2005) laments the pressure on community college presidents to call themselves CEOs. Spooner and Shaw describe the commercialization of college campuses as universities accept product exclusivity contracts, corporate sponsorships, and research agenda's that are corporate driven (2005). The reality is that institutions of higher learning are in the business of preparing students to become professionals. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in collaboration with the Association of American Colleges and Universities is involved in a longterm investigation of how professionals are educated in the United States (Shulman, 2005).

In order to meet the challenges of the marketplace, a professional must learn how to practice with good judgment based on a commitment to personal and social responsibility. Yet, how does professional education rise to this challenge of character building? How do education programs teach the skills and values that lead students to reason through uncertainty and act with integrity? There may he no better time than this to revisit university mission statements in hope of either rediscovering their original promise or testing their relevancy in the 21st Century. At my institution, faculty must be able to articulate the university mission. I suggest that students can not only be taught the mission of the university, but also become capable of operationalizing it within a professional context.

The University Mission

Given the ubiquitous nature of university mission statements it is surprising that there is very little in the literature about the teaching or articulation of a university's mission in college classrooms. Mission statements have traditionally been used to state a shared purpose and collective responsibility, as well as provide an institution's justification for being (DuFour, 1997; Kibuuka, 2001). Educational mission statements are written to be understood by all stakeholders and thus tend to be short, concise statements laden with a vision for what the university purpose is and what the university intends to accomplish.

There is little evidence that mission statements are taught, discussed, and operationalized in classrooms. The faculty of the Biology Department at Morehouse College attempted to bring their departmental mission to life by holding regular discussions about it and by setting educational goals that linked the mission to student educational experiences (Haynes, 2002). Pike, Kuh, and Gonyea's study looked at the influence of the university mission on the nature of students' college experiences, learning environments, and intellectual development (2003). This study, however, looked only at Carnegie Classifications as representation of mission and did not take other institutional factors into account. The DePaul Values Project explored undergraduate and graduate student perceptions of institutional mission and values at DePaul University. A sub-scale, Institutional values education, sought to elicit students' understanding of the institution's mission and institutional values located in the university's mission statement (Filkins & Ferrari, 2004).

Black (2005) wanted to understand and implement his university's mission into a mathematics classroom. Situated in a Jesuit institution, the principles of the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm were selected to "challenge students to become seekers of truth and agents of positive change in the world" (Black, 2005, p. 18). One goal was to help students internalize what they were learning. This was facilitated by not only teaching to the cognitive domain but by eliciting an emotional response to the material. The students were provided a positive learning experience by having groups work together to solve problems. Black asserts that using group work "advances the Ignatian principle that education supersedes distinction of social class" (2005, p. 19). Finally, schools are also using co-curriculum ethics events to reinforce their institutional missions (Saavedra, 2004).

Given that mission statements exist as symbols of the purpose of the institution and given that professional pedagogies attempt to bridge ideas and practice, is one pedagogy better than another when instructors teach the university mission? Problembased learning is one pedagogy I find particularly useful in situating students as apprentice professionals prior to encountering real practitioner problems. In addition, problem-based learning represents a significant paradigm shift in how students are taught to manage increasingly complex information regardless of the discipline (Mierson & Parikh, 2000; Savin-Baden, 2003).

Problem-Based Learning

McMaster University and Case Western Reserve University Medical School are two institutions that began using PBL in the 1950s (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980). The educational significance of PBL is that it facilitates a much broader type of acquisition and application of knowledge than traditional teaching methods. The learning required in PBL is active and requires the student to think, perform, and learn by trail and error, rather than listen, write, observe, and memorize (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980). Equally important, Barrows and Tamblyn suggest that this type of pedagogy may ward off harmful changes in students' clinical reasoning styles as they gain knowledge (1980). An increasing knowledge base is associated with a tendency for sophisticated medical students to make hypotheses about a problem that are too specific or narrow, thus the student is less adaptable to change as new data appears (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980). The use of problems to facilitate learning is also consistent with the tenets of current cognitive theory and adult learning theory.

The common denominator of this teaching method is the use of problems for instruction; with problems broadly defined as cases, paper or video vignettes, posed questions, or unexplained phenomena (Barrows, 1986). Professional education is particularly suited to PBL because it is an educational strategy that is designed to place learners in a professional situation with a task or challenge as a source for learning, and arrange it as work they will confront in their professional future (Gijselaers, 1996; Walton & Matthews, 1989). As such, it is an authentic way to learn as it forces students to not only call upon the cognitive domain, it also places demands on the affective and psychomotor domains of knowledge; areas often left unchallenged by didactic teaching. Although studies suggest that traditionally taught students may learn more content, there is evidence that PBL maximizes knowledge retention (Saarinen-Rahiika & Binkley, 1998). Schwartz (1991) cautions educators that the accountability movement in higher education is calling for a change in faculty role from teaching facts to guiding development of critical thinking, and emphasizing collaborative and experiential teaching methods. Therefore, using this teaching methodology requires as much a philosophical shift as a role shift as the instructor must give up a certain amount of authority and empower students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Teaching the University Mission

Teaching the university mission as a call to action rather than an abstract concept is a powerful means of instilling in students the idea of ethical professional practice. Even though this article describes a teaching experience at a Jesuit institution, I believe PBL can be used to teach any university's mission in such a way that it can be operationalized. I used a course embedded assessment (CEA) to determine if I could teach my university's mission to students in such a way that it would become real and useful to them in professional contexts. Jesuits have been involved in higher education since the 1540's and contemporary Jesuits continue the educational mission of St. Ignatius of Loyola in 56 countries around the world. The mission statement of my institution states that the university is dedicated to the service of the contemporary world, social justice, and finding an individual's best gifts. The Jesuit university mission is designed to impact students' educational experiences as well as impact the community as a whole. This CEA was designed to answer the following questions: How can the university mission be articulated and operationalized and used by students in every day practice? What are the benefits of PBL as a vehicle for teaching the mission and as a pedagogy of formation?

A pre and post test was modeled after an assignment inspired by Smith (2001). The assignment is designed to challenge the student to develop a mission and philosophy statement for a fictitious healthcare service in the community. Students were asked to articulate the Jesuit mission in secular terms and answer the questions of: a) who are we? b) What do we want to become? and c) What are our guiding objectives? They were then asked to write a philosophy statement that defined their beliefs about the work they would do and type of services they would provide at their fictitious health care facility.

In order to teach the mission the author provided content on the history and meaning of the Jesuit mission. Three corresponding interventions were developed, in the form of classroom assignments. The three assignments were (1) Thought Letter; (2) Letter to CEO; and (3) Meeting with Supervisor. In the first assignment students were instructed to write to a trusted friend after experiencing a fictitious breach of confidentiality in a healthcare stetting. The thought letter was designed to facilitate individual student reflection on the intersection of their own personal values and the values embedded within the mission of their educational institution. The second assignment incorporated formal writing skills and required students to write a departmental letter to the CEO of the healthcare organization explaining how the mission of the organization is operationalized within the student's fictitious department. Finally, assignment three, the meeting with the supervisor, gave students an opportunity to articulate the mission of their department in a role-play with a less than ethical supervisor. Formal and informal, oral and written, the interventions were developed by the instructor with both the cognitive and affective domains of learning in mind.

Collecting and Analyzing Classroom Data

A primary trait analysis was completed based on primary and secondary sources describing the Jesuit mission and values (Ignatius of Loyola, 2005, Kolvenback, 1987, Lowney, 2003, Rhodes, 2005). This primary trait analysis was used to develop a rubric describing each element and a scale for scoring the elements. The rubric was used to score the assignment that was given at the beginning of the semester and again at the end of semester after all classroom interventions had taken place. Rubrics were scored by the instructor and interrater reliability was established using an evaluator outside of the department for approximately one-third of the data collected. A total score of 50 points was derived from the scoring of the elements on the rubric, ranging from 5 for Excellent to 0 for Deficient. Data was analyzed by comparing means of the total score of the pre and post tests.


The students' scores from pre-test to post-test were significantly different, indicating that students did learn and internalize the ideas embedded within the Jesuit mission and became more skilled at articulating them in secular terms in healthcare scenarios. Results of the course-embedded assessment indicate that the university mission can be articulated and operationalized by students in college classrooms. There is evidence from this inquiry that PBL can be conceptualized as a pedagogy of formation. Placed in context and perturbed by the role play in the ethics meeting with the supervisor, students had to articulate the ethics that drove their professional decisions. This could not have been accomplished with a lecture class Other lessons learned suggest that although many mission statements sound similar and even use the same words, the historical values of particular universities can be expressed and appreciated in unique ways. The values espoused by St Ignatius, such as caring for one's neighbors, lifelong learning, and service to others, are not unique to the Jesuits. Yet, the unique constellation of values articulated by the Jesuits seemed to resonate with students long after the course ended. Therefore, this type of assignment can help unpack what it means to be a student or graduate from a particular institution in terms of mission and values. One suggestion for further research is to give students a values checklist before and after classroom interventions. This would help clarify what values students bring with them to a particular program or course. Another suggestion is to use video analysis to confirm student use of mission driven behaviors.


This experience provided me with valuable information about students' abilities to articulate a mission in a PBL classroom. PBL is conceptualized as a pedagogy of formation. It facilitates transformation as students become mission driven individuals trying on new behaviors, reflecting on their own actions, and making choices about the type of professional they wish to become. Just as discussions among the faculty in the Biology Department at Morehouse College brought them together as a community of scholars, student experiences in a PBL classroom and with the mission can lead to character formation. This study appears to confirm that mission statements can be a call to action in a changing world and in situations of uncertainty.


Barrows, H.S., (1986) 'A taxonomy of Problem-Based Learning Methods', Medical Education 20: 481-486

Barrows, H.S., & Tamblyn, R.M. (1980) Problem-Based Learning: An Approach to Medical Education. New York: Springer.

Black, C.P. (2005). 'Saint Ignatius on Teaching Mathematics', Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education. 27: 17-20.

Bruhn, J. G. (1992) 'Problem-based learning: An approach toward reforming allied health education', Journal of Allied Health 2: 161-173.

DuFour, R. (1997). 'Make the Words of Mission Statements Come to Life', Journal of Staff Development 18: 54-55.

Filkins, J.W., and Ferrari, J.R. (2004) 'The DePaul Values Project: An Ongoing Assessment of Students' Perceptions of a Private University's Core Mission and Values', New Directions for Institutional Research 122: 81-91,

Gijselaers, W.H. (1996) 'Connecting problem-based practices with educational theory' (in) W.H. Gijselaers, and L. Wilkerson, (eds.) Bringing Problem-Based Learning to Higher Education: Theory and Practice, pp. 203-310. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hara, E. (2005) 'Graduation: Promises Kept', Community College Week, May: 4-5.

Haynes, J.K. (2002 'Linking Departmental and Institutional Mission', New Directions in Higher Education 119: 65-68.

Hoyle, M. (2005) 'President or CEO?', Community College Week, 3:4-5 Ignatius of Loyola 'Selected Letters of Loyola' Http://www.woodstock. [accessed 09 August 2004].

Kibuuka, H.E. (2001) 'Vision and mission statement in Christian higher educational management in eastern Africa', Journal of Research on Christian Education 10: 87-114.

Kolvenback, P.H. SJ (1987) 'The Characteristics of Jesuit Education', Jesuit Secondary Education Association, Washington, DC.

Lowney, C. (2003) Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World. Loyola Press: Chicago.

Mierson, S.& Parikh, A.A. (2000) 'Stories from the field' Change, Jan/Feb: 21-27.

Pike, G.R., Kuh, G.D.,and Gonyea, R.M. (2003) 'The relationship between institutional mission and students' involvement and educational outcomes', Research in Higher Education 44: 241-262.

Rhodes, F. H. T. "Mission and Ministry of Jesuits in Higher Education' mission/[accessed 12 November 2005].

Saavedra, R. (2004) 'Co-Curricular Ethics Events Reinforce Institutional Missions', National On-Campus Report 32: 1-2.

Saarinen-Rahiika, H., and Binkley, J.M. (1998) 'Problem-based learning in physical therapy: A review of literature and overview of the McMaster University experience', Physical Therapy, 78: 195-201.

Savin-Baden, M. (2003) Challenging Research in Problem-Based Learning. McGraw Hill: New York.

Schwartz, K. B. (1991) 'Clinical reasoning and new ideas on intelligence: Implications For teaching and learning', American Journal of Occupational Therapy 45: 1033-1004.

Shulman, L.S. (2005) 'Pedagogies of Uncertainty. Liberal Education' [online]. Spring, 05, Available from: spo5feature2.cfm [accessed 15 November 2005].

Smith, V. (2001) 'An Assignment Linking Theory to Mission and Philosophy Development', in Karen Sladyk (ed.) Clinician to Educator: What Experts Know in Occupational Therapy, pp.43-46. Slack: New Jersey.

Spooner M. & Shaw, T. (2005)'Business of Universities: A Call for Transparency in our Institutions of Higher Learning', Canadian Dimension 39: [accessed 10 October 2005].

Tynjala, P., Vlaimaa, J., & Sarja, A. (2003) 'Pedagogical perspectives on the relationship between higher education and working life', Higher Education 46: 147-166.

Walton, H.J. & Matthews, M.B. (1989) 'Essential of Problem-Based Learning', Medical Education 23: 542-558.

Davis, Ph.D., is Professor of Occupational Therapy Education, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Rapid Intellect Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Davis, Janis
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2006
Previous Article:Student expectations for distance education.
Next Article:Global competency: an interdisciplinary approach.

Related Articles
Assessing the Effectiveness of Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education: Lessons from the Literature.
Self-Grading for Formative Assessment in Problem-Based Learning.
Problem-Based Learning as a Multimedia Design Framework in Teacher Education [*].
Exploring how students learn organic chemistry. (The scholarship of teaching and learning).
With this ring: Webrings can bring customized information to districts quickly and efficiently. (The Online Edge).
Subject: Performance Based Logistics: Purchasing Using Performance Based Criteria.
Navy Newsstand (Dec. 13, 2005): Hornet industry and Navy teams win honors.
PBL improves retention of exercise physiology.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters