The PBL system

This page has specifically been set up to provide you with information about our educational system: Problem-Based Learning (PBL); a system that might differ quite a lot from what you are used to at your own university. First of all, it is a small scale educational system, consisting of so-called tutorial groups with a maximum of 15 students and a tutor, all representing various nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, the students do most of the talking – in English – as they actively discuss the course contents, while the tutors are probably less active in the discussion than you might expect. From our own teaching experience, we have learned that adapting to this new educational system (PBL) causes problems for many incoming exchange students. That is why we have developed this website, to try and prevent you from experiencing the same problems.

Since most exchange students enroll in third year bachelor or master courses, you might not encounter PBL in its purest form (the so-called seven jump approach). But in any case your tutorial groups will still involve very self-steering education. In most cases problem tasks will be discussed in class, where a student will act as discussion leader. Also, students might give presentations discussing literature and cases in small teams. In any case, classes will demand both active preparation and participation.

Another important role in PBL is that of secretary. Her or she will prepares the minutes of the session. In some courses this will be limited to creating an overview of the learning goals that resulted from the pre-discussion; in other they will also contain a summary of the session’s post-discussion.

A big part of the successful functioning of PBL depends on the participation of all group members, and at first this often is problematic for incoming exchange students. One issue here is the use of English in class. You might feel uncomfortable since it might be the first time you have to really speak English at university, especially if you hear the regular students talk fast and fluently. But remember that they were once newcomers at this University as well, and can therefore relate to this issue.

Workload
Being a student at Maastricht University is generally considered to be intensive and time-consuming, by regular students, and especially by exchange students. It is officially even regarded as a full time ‘job’ of 40 hours a week. Important to note is that most of this time is actually not spent in a classroom, but mostly on self-study. A regular education week usually consists of 2 tutorials a week for each of the courses (usually 2) you are taking. Sometimes these tutorials might be replaced by a (guest) lecture or workshop. Therefore, you might only spend 8 hours a week in class, while the rest of the time will be required to prepare your classes. This preparation usually consists of reading text book chapters and academic papers, solving the tasks and assignments, preparing presentations, and/or writing case reports. Of course, when the exam (scheduled in week 8 of the period) gets closer you will spend more and more time on studying for the exam as well.

Tasks
The main starting for most of the class discussion can be found in the problem tasks, or just tasks. These tasks are the basic element of PBL education, since ‘hidden’ in these tasks are certain problems that need resolution by the students. Based on these tasks students should discuss the relevant literature and address the task specific problems. What is essential in the class discussion is student-to-student teaching; in first instance students should be able to explain relevant issues and solve assigned problem themselves. The tutor will primarily only facilitate the discussion, for example by asking probing questions, or suggesting students to use the whiteboard in their explanation.

However, in quite a lot of courses in 3rd year and master courses the original PBL system is not applied in its strictest sense. In these courses you might just be given the questions and assignments to answer, or a small group of students might be assigned to ‘facilitate’ a session and its contents (which is essentially a extended interactive presentation and discussion of that day’s topic and literature).

UM expectation

We realize that you want to make the most out of your exchange period (so would we), but that does not mean however that you get your credits for free. You need to work for them and the set-up of our education system does not make it any easier.

We expect you to be prepared for every tutorial you have. This means reading the assigned chapters and articles, preparing the questions that have been discussed, preparing for your role as discussion leader/secretary if applicable, preparing a presentation etc. In the end, this means that a lot of students consider Maastricht University to impose a substantial workload on its students.