Date of Award

Summer 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Richard Overbaugh

Committee Member

Shana L. Pribesh

Committee Member

Sue C. Kimmel


In education, many academic majors can fall within one of two main concentrations: the hard or soft sciences. The hard sciences are defined as the natural sciences and include subjects such as Engineering, Chemistry, and Biology while the soft sciences are defined as the social sciences and include subjects such as English, Sociology, and Anthropology. While instructional approaches have been created to help instructors teach and students learn within each of the scientific areas, few studies have sought to see if instructional approaches from one of the sciences can be used in the other. One such instructional approach is the problem-based one, which has yielded many different instructional models within the hard sciences but remains unused in the soft sciences.

Research has shown that each problem-based model used within the hard sciences has used its own cooperative grouping and assessment strategies, leading to variations in the methods used in hard science classrooms. While the problem-based instructional approach used in the hard sciences values the development of soft skills, this has also been a major learning outcome for courses within the soft sciences. Knowing that the problem-based instructional approach used in the hard sciences values soft skills development, it is not known if a problem-based approach should be used in the soft sciences classroom, and, if it should, if a traditional problem-based model from the hard science classroom would be effective. As part of a problem-based model for the soft sciences disciplines, it is also not clear which cooperative grouping and assessment strategies should be used since many of the previous problem-based models use a variety of grouping and assessment strategies.

The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate which cooperative grouping strategies and assessment method may be effective within two problem-based instructional models used in the soft sciences. The following cooperative grouping strategies were examined for effects on student satisfaction and achievement: homogeneous or heterogeneous teams, small or large teams, and instructor or student-selected job role assignments. A three-level evaluation tool, including peer, self, and tutor evaluation, was also tested as an instructional tool within the problem-based model to see if it had an impact on student's achievement. Pre- and Post-Satisfaction Questionnaires were created to test each model's and cooperative grouping strategy's effect on students' satisfaction with teamwork and team projects.

The participants were undergraduate students enrolled in blended learning sections of an Arts and Sciences senior Capstone course at a private university. Students were enrolled in a course section that used one of eight different grouping combinations: either a traditional or revised problem-based instructional model, which placed students in teams of five to seven or three to four students, respectively; either a homogeneous or heterogeneous teams composition; and either instructor or student-chosen job roles within the teams. Quantitative data were collected on students' achievement via grades based upon a three-level grading rubric and students' satisfaction ratings via a quantitative pre- and post-questionnaire. Qualitative data were students' satisfaction via ten reflection wikis. The quantitative data were analyzed using statistical procedures, including ANOVA, MANOVA, and MANCOVA; qualitative data were analyzed using phenomenological analysis methods.

The findings show that the traditional and revised problem-based models are equally effective in promoting student achievement and students are equally satisfied in terms on teamwork and team projects in both models. The grouping strategies within the models also had the same effects. However, where the findings differ is in terms of role assignments. While there were no differences among satisfaction in the different role assignments, students' grades did differ depending on the role assignments.