Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Education)

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Jean Macnish

Second Supervisor

Associate Professor Frank Bate


Problem-based Learning (PBL) is widely used in education and extensive research has been conducted into the use of PBL to improve student learning. E-textbooks are a relatively recent development and represent the next stage of evolution of print media with improvements in the presentation of information. They also offer the possibility of being used as a learning tool rather than just as a store of knowledge. This thesis attempts to develop a set of design principles that allow the development of e-textbooks to promote PBL in secondary school science students.

This research presents the results of a four-year study, between 2013 and 2016 with different classes, that aimed to investigate the development and use of e-textbooks to facilitate PBL in secondary school science classrooms. It involved identification of constraints that limit the implementation of PBL and measurement of their effect on learning through PBL. These included learning, pedagogical and technical constraints. An investigation was conducted into the use of e-textbooks to augment PBL and ameliorate these constraints. Through a process of Design-based Research, a set of principles was established that might promote the successful use of PBL and e-textbooks in secondary science contexts.

A review of the research literature revealed that PBL can have a powerful impact as an educational tool if the learning environment is well managed. However, certain constraints to using PBL, especially in secondary schools, require investigation. E-textbooks may also be able to improve student learning using PBL while ameliorating some of these constraints. The three research questions developed for this research aimed to identify such constraints and identify factors that could increase the impact of PBL on student learning using e-textbooks.

This study used a qualitative approach to investigate the use of e-textbooks to support PBL in secondary school science classrooms with some quantitative data used to support one aspect of the study (student knowledge). Data collected from a PBL Evaluation Tool before and after each intervention were used to measure student knowledge, planning, monitoring and evaluation and student engagement. In addition, data were collected through focus group interviews and observations of students in class. The four-year time span of the study allowed the collection of a large amount of data that provided opportunities for triangulation.

The three research questions guided the development of a set of design principles that will be useful in the future development of e-textbooks that support PBL. The results of the study were several design principles that could be used by teachers and schools to develop e-textbooks to support a PBL program. These principles are presented using a road map analogy that illustrates the journey undertaken in this research. The design principles involve the pedagogy of the teacher, the design of the e-textbook and the facilitation of the students in the PBL environment.

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