A ROAD NOT TAKEN: A BREAKTHROUGH IN ENGLISH FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES VIA PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING
Problem-based learning (PBL) is purported to empower learners by encouraging them to take a deep approach to learning and become more confident and self-directed in their learning. This paper explores lecturer and student experiences of a first year undergraduate English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course that uses the PBL approach. The learning was grounded in genuine situations of practice in which high degree of team work and collaboration was eminent. In particular, this paper presents a PhD ethnographic case study that focuses on higher education student experiences of learning English in a PBL environment. A particular community was established in which lecturers and students interacted to negotiate and construct new understandings and develop life-long learning skills. Data on the lecturer and student experiences were gathered from classroom observations, a focus group, and student/lecturer interviews and access to student reflective journal entries. Students welcomed and valued the opportunity of the new found learning territory of taking more responsibility for their learning and the freedom of action and thought. During the course, participants achieved new insights into themselves as language learners despite finding it challenging, particularly in the initial phase when they were confronted with learning in a different mode. They became very involved in the course because they were genuinely enthused and interested in the learning process. This is seen as crucial and significant for developing the necessary competence in mastery of the English language in higher education. It is also useful in suggesting that PBL is viable as an (optional) subsequent teaching strategy in the Malaysian or similar context.