PBL Planner Toolkit: A Canvas-based Tool for Planning PBL in
Software Engineering Education
Gustavo H. S. Alexandre
and Simone C. Santos
Informatics Center - Federal University of Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil
CESAR School, Brum Street, Recife, Brazil
Keywords: Educational Planning, Problem-based Learning, Canvas, Computing.
Abstract: The PBL (Problem-Based Learning) methodology provides many benefits to those who use it in teaching. In
this light, it is important to plan well when using this methodology, efficient to the purposes established by
an educator. However, there is a lack of specific tools to help educators in the task of planning their
teaching, specifically geared to the PBL approach. As a solution to this problem, this paper proposes a tool
consisting of a Canvas PBL and a set of cards intended to guide the planning of teaching in the PBL
approach. Initial results indicate a good level of acceptance of the tool, as well as indicators of its utility in
planning and adopting PBL, as shown by the data collected from the application of a survey that evaluated
the use of our Toolkit.
The alignment between the professional IT profile
required by the labor market, in particular of the
software industry, with the profile of graduated
students from Computing courses has been shown to
be a great challenge (Von Wangenhein and Silva,
2009), (Schuster, 2008). The challenge of
reformulating academic curricula brings the
proposition of skills development such as problem
solving and business vision, but without
overlooking, as well, technical skills that are part of
the curriculum, such as programming and software
development tools.
The ACM/IEEE published in 2012 a report of
curricular guidelines for degree programs in
Computer Science (Draft, 2012) and, in this report,
there is a chapter entirely devoted to the
characteristics of the graduates, specifically about
skills which graduates must attain at least at an
elementary level. We can mention as example of
such skills like ability in project management;
problem solving through alternative solutions and
skills focused on oral and written communication,
collaborative and interactive work.
Nonetheless, the courses that are based on
traditional model of teaching, based on fixed
transmission of knowledge, are not succeeding to
promote effectively meaningful learning, nor
encouraging students in the acquisition of new
knowledge and skills necessary for adequate training
(Luckesi, 2011).
As an alternative to the traditional model of
education training, the teaching methodology in
Problem-Based Learning - PBL (Striegel and Rover,
2002) has been applied in different areas such as
Medicine, where it first started, and in Engineering
and Technology. The PBL method is appropriate for
education in Computing, because it significantly
unites the initial training of students with
professional practice, including professional skills in
the curriculum, thus enabling them to develop their
skills in practice (Ribeiro, 2005).
However, the adoption of the method is not
trivial. Challenges are found particularly in terms of
managing the teaching and learning process, since
PBL differs a lot from the traditional and demands
some changes, not only in the student and professor
roles, but also in the learning environment, which
needs to reflect the reality of the labor market
(Rodrigues, 2012). The methodology prescribes that
the problem, as the thrust of the teaching and
learning process, (Savery and Duffy, 1995) is real;
in other words, problems are not invented or created
for the classroom. Instead, they are relevant and
complex enough so that the educational goals
defined by educators can be attained by students.
Alexandre, G. and Santos, S.
PBL Planner Toolkit: A Canvas-based Tool for Planning PBL in Software Engineering Education.
DOI: 10.5220/0006676802060213
In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2018), pages 206-213
ISBN: 978-989-758-291-2
2019 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
And, last but not least, assessments should be
conducted continuously to provide feedback on the
performance of students in different perspectives
such as: professors, tutors, clients and teammates
(Tuohi, 2007).
With so many aspects and stakeholders to be
considered for the adoption of PBL in a course, it
became evident that is not an easy and obvious task.
The risk of the PBL methodology implementation
not being effective is high, especially if planning and
monitoring is not conducted so as to ensure an
alignment between theory (specificities of PBL
methodology) and practice (as the methodology
happens) (Figueiredo et al., 2011). So, to mitigate
such risks and problems, the course planning in PBL
approach must be careful, thorough in a way to
contemplate all aspects inherent to the PBL
methodology cited previously, and collaborative, to
enable all the stakeholders (coordinators, teachers,
tutors and clients) to work together, each one
fomenting the work to the best of their abilities. To
achieve the desired benefits that the methodology
can provide to all involved, communication should
be aligned among all stakeholders so there is no
deviation of understanding of what is being planned
and planning must be consistent with the principles
of the PBL methodology.
The Theoretical and methodological background that
substantiate this research are presented in this
2.1 PBL Approach and Its Principles
PBL (Problem Based Learning) is a teaching and
learning method that aims at the acquisition of
knowledge as well as at the development of attitudes
and skills through problem resolution. The PBL
methodology is based on principles (Santos,
Figueiredo and Wanderley, 2013). In a research
(Rodrigues and Santos, 2013) performed from 4 key
studies, 10 essential principles in PBL, that are a
guide to an effective approach were defined. The 10
principles are:
1. All learning activities must be anchored on a
task or problem; 2. The learner should feel that
he/she owns the problem, and is responsible for
his/her own learning; 3. The problem should be real;
4. The task and the learning environment should
reflect the reality of the professional market; 5. The
learner needs to own the process used to work out
the solution to the problem; 6. The learning
environment should stimulate and at the same time
challenge the learner’s reasoning; 7. The learner
should be encouraged to test his/her ideas against
alternative views and contexts; 8. The learner should
have the opportunity and support to reflect on the
content try, and the learning process; 9. The learning
is collaborative and multidirectional; 10. PBL is
supported by the planning process and continuous
In (Santos, Furtado and Lins, 2014), the authors
propose the distribution of the 10 principles in 5 key
elements to be exploited in the adoption of the PBL
methodology: problem, environment, content,
human capital and process.
2.2 Planning Teaching Process and
Learning PBL
Whoever decides to adopt the PBL method can
benefit from positive results in the learning process.
Among these results, students’ development is
heightened reasoning ability in solving problems;
the students’ stimulus in self-development of their
autonomy and proactivity; high attendance and
knowledge acquisition and elevation of the
motivation and engagement (Khairiy Ah, Mimi and
Azila, 2004).
However, adopting the PBL method is not a
simple task. It proposes a change in the paradigm of
teaching and learning that completely breaks the
traditional teaching model (Schilling, 1998). It
requires a change of attitude from students and
professors, administrative support and infrastructure
remotely appropriate, so when implementing it, all
benefits previously mentioned can be achieved
(Silva and Delizoicov, 2005). Another aspect is that
the adoption of PBL is not prescriptive, that is, there
is not a formula to be followed for the method
adoption (Maltese, 2012).
Therefore, it is essential to plan for the adoption
of PBL, in order to prevent the inadequate use of the
method, negligence of critical aspects of the
processes contained in learning methodology for its
correct implementation and proper alignment
between theory and practice throughout the learning
and teaching process.
But in the current teaching practice, the activity
of planning, in general, has not received its due
attention. Actually, it has been considered a
bureaucratic activity, too extensive, and of little help
in teaching (Fusari, 1998). Thus, this research argues
PBL Planner Toolkit: A Canvas-based Tool for Planning PBL in Software Engineering Education
that the adoption of the PBL approach should be
performed from a management model that is driven
by processes.
Researches such as (Santos, Montes and
Rodrigues, 2013) and (Santos, Furtado and Lins,
2014) show that the effectiveness of the adoption of
the PBL approach can be achieved when it is guided
by defined procedures and stages of planning,
implementation, monitoring and continuous
evaluation for improvements. These steps are the
same as defined in PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check
and Act), a tool used in planning and processes of
continuous improvement, that can be used also for
management of the process of teaching and learning
in PBL (Rodrigues, Estivalete and Lemos, 2008).
In the adoption of the PBL approach some
aspects such as flexibility and unpredictability
should be considered mainly as the impact on the
stages management and activities associated with the
teaching and learning process. Since PBL is a
process-oriented approach (Alessio, 2004) it is
fundamental that the alignment is maintained within
the stages of the PBL process to ensure its
Based on the PBL principles the PDCA cycle
(Plan, Do, Check and Act) and concepts associated
with the technical 5W2H, an approach called xPBL,
was developed, which will be detailed in the
following section.
2.3 The xPBL Methodology
xPBL is a methodology that aims to align methods
and tools for managing the PBL approach to
education in fields such as Computer Science, in
order to ensure that the principles are respected in its
adoption. It was officially defined and proposed in
2014, but researches that supported its creation only
started in 2006 (Santos, Furtado and Lins, 2014). To
ensure that PBL principles that go beyond its
educational objectives are met, the methodology
xPBL is based on five elements: (1) Problem; (2)
Environment; (3) Content; (4) The human capital
and (5) Process. These elements reinforce ten
principles that were established in (Santos,
Figueiredo and Wanderley, 2013).
The elements of the xPBL methodology should
be addressed at all stages of the PDCA cycle, mainly
with regards to planning being aligned to its
implementation. To help the planning process and
guide the definition of 5 elements of xPBL, it is also
used 5W2H technique: "What?", "Who?", "Where?"
"When?", "Why?", "How?" and “How Much?”.
To help planning, the authors proposed a guide
for each element of xPBL containing 7 questions
about the 5W2H technique, plus a field called
Output, which is a suggestion of formalization after
completion of planning of each element.
The PBL Planner Toolkit or (PBL Toolkit, in short),
is a tool to support teaching planning with the PBL
approach in Computing courses. It is composed by a
canvas (table) divided into fields and a set of cards
that guide the completion of the canvas and of
planning. The tool is intended to be used by all
educators who wish to carry out teaching planning in
PBL Computing courses. Especially novice
professor who have low experience in conducting
educational planning, professor with low level of
knowledge in the PBL approach or both. Each
component of this tool is presented in the following
sections. A digital version of PBL Toolkit is
available at http://www.pblplanner.com.
3.1 PBL Canvas
The PBL Canvas consists of a table divided into 11
fields. The definitions of the fields that form the
PBL Canvas originated from the concepts of the
PDCA methodology and xPBL. Its structure was
inspired on the Project Model Canvas (PM Canvas)
(Finocchio Junior, 2014). Each field has a color and
an icon to facilitate its identification. The model of
the PBL Canvas is presented in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: PBL Canvas.
For each field, a color and a different icon were
assigned, in order to facilitate its distinction, as well
CSEDU 2018 - 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
as to ease the association with the PBL Cards. Each
field represents a set of aspects to be considered in
planning. These aspects are described below.
Table 1: The canvas fields and their aspects.
Icon/Field Aspects
F1 - Course
Course contextualization defined
items such as name of course,
duration, type, target audience;
prerequisites for study are described
in this field.
F2 -
Goal setting for students’ learning,
goals related to motivation,
engagement and students’ attendance
as well as the overall performance of
the group. Definition of goals related
to employability and professional
performance of student.
F3 - Success
Student, methodology and course
definition of indicators of success.
F4- Problem
Capitation, systematic description,
submission, approval of the proposal
of the problem and change of choice
in the matter.
F5 -
Definition of equipment, software and
materials necessary for
implementation of course; definition
of the physical and virtual space.
F6 - Human
Definition of roles and the team that
will be part of the course.
F7 - Content
Description of the contents of a
module. Indication of sources to
support or deepening of knowledge.
F8 -
Assessment that covers various
aspects such as: content, customer
satisfaction, process of resolution of
the problem, result of problem
solving, interpersonal skills,
F9 - Processes
Description of learning process based
on resolution of problems and process
of dividing students into groups.
Definition of timetable, professors
and students assessment schedule,
delivery of materials requested by the
Icon/Field Aspects
F10 -
teachers, assessment of the
methodological objectives and
assessment of course quality.
F11 - Risks
Identification of risks and threats that
may compromise the success of the
Many aspects have to be considered in the PBL
Canvas. Therefore, thinking of a way to help the
user during the course planning, it was decided to
create of a set of cards, containing all those
described aspects.
3.2 PBL Cards
40 cards were created and distributed among the 11
fields of PBL Canvas. Each of the 40 cards has the
same structure. The front of the car has basically
three pieces of information from the PBL Canvas:
the name of the field; the color and icon that
connects to the field. This was done to facilitate the
association among cards and their respective fields
in the PBL Canvas. Therefore, all cards from the
same field would have the same color and the same
associated icon.
Figure 2 shows the back of the cards’ structure,
which contains six important pieces of information:
name and icon of the related field to the Canvas;
name, card identifier and a card description; the
questions that guide the completion of the PBL
Canvas and examples of answers to the questions.
Lastly, the artifacts that can be generated when
Figure 2: PBL Card Verse Example.
The question item contains queries that have
been defined to promote reflection in aspects that are
necessary for the planning. In formulating questions
the technique used was the 5W2H. However, the
queries that compose the cards are not restricted to
those that are part of the technique, allowing queries
that contribute best to the aspect to be planned.
On the other hand, the examples item represents
possible responses to each one of the questions made
PBL Planner Toolkit: A Canvas-based Tool for Planning PBL in Software Engineering Education
in the referred item. The purpose is to illustrate, for
those who carry out the planning, what kind of
response is expected for each question.
The artifact item refers to the field Output from
the proposed guide in article (Santos, Furtado and
Lins, 2014), which defines the xPBL methodology.
As well as in the guide, this item represents a
suggestion of a planned aspect formalization or
support tool during its implementation.
3.3 How to Use the PBL Toolkit
Course planning with the PBL approach using the
toolkit is divided into 3 phases: Planning, Revising,
and Sharing, described below.
3.3.1 Planning
Planning is subdivided into 3 stages that must be
performed at least once each one. To carry out this
stage it is important that there is participation of the
people who will act as teachers, tutors and
The stage 1 in completing the PBL Canvas is the
introduction to planning. It is composed of the fields
Course, Objectives and Indicators of Success, in this
order. These fields define the context of the course
to be planned as well as the objectives and goals to
be achieved. Planning participants should answer
questions 1 through 9 and set responses in the
corresponding fields. After setting the answers to
chart 9, step 1 of planning is finalized.
Stage 2 corresponds to the fields that come from
the xPBL methodology: Problem, Environment,
Human Capital, Content and Learning Assessment.
These are the central elements of planning and are
more closely related to the PBL method. It is from
the planning of these fields that the methods and
tools for managing the PBL approach in Computer
teaching will be aligned. The process of filling in is
identical to the one in step 1 starting on card number
10 through 33.
Finally, stage 3 completes the planning with the
Process, Schedule and Risks fields. These fields
together are responsible for defining the learning
process based on problem solving to be followed,
class schedules, scheduling of assessments and
deliveries, as well as identifying possible risks that
threaten the success of the course as a whole. The
letters to fill this field range from number 34 to 40
and after letter number 40, have been answered the
completion of PBL Canvas will be completed.
Figure 3 shows the finished PBL canvas.
Figure 3: PBL Canvas after completed planning.
Table 2 below presents some questions and
answers regarding the planning of a course in
Computer Science.
Table 2: Example of questions and answers of planning.
Fields Some example of questions and answers
Area of Activities?
A: Software Engineering.
Work schedule and duration of course?
A: 60 hours in 4 months.
What non-technical skills (personal,
management and business)?
A: Leadership, teamwork, initiative,
communication, innovation, business
What information should be included in the
description of the problem?
A: Mastery of the problem, public target,
needs of the clients, importance of the
Who will be the client?
A: Company XYZ.
In what way will he/she be involved?
A: In the workshop of opportunities,
evaluations of satisfaction and final
What criteria will be used to evaluate the
A: Understanding the basic concepts of the
projects, the life-cycle, processes and critical
What are the criteria for splitting up the teams?
A: Level of training, skills, professional
experience and close affinities.
What learning process should be followed?
A: The 4-stage Barrows PBL (Proposing,
Discussing, Resolving and Assessing).
CSEDU 2018 - 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
3.3.2 Revising
The purpose of the review phase is to check issues
that have raised questions during planning as well as
some aspect that has not been fully answered. It is
also important to make sure that the dependencies
between the fields are properly aligned. For example
the objective fields with those of evaluations in
which the first defines the objective and in the
second how to measure if it has been reached.
3.3.3 Sharing
The final phase aims to build an action plan that
should list all tasks and artifacts planned during the
planning phase. The action plan should contain, in
addition to the task list and artifacts, the deadline for
creation, the status of the task or artifact, and who is
the owner. With the creation of the action plan, a
version of the teaching plan is generated (baseline),
which can undergo adaptations and improvements
throughout its implementation.
Next we present the first results obtained with the
assessments of the PBL Planner Toolkit. The
strategy adopted for assessment was to evaluate the
Toolkit by its constitutive features and evaluate the
use of the Toolkit as a education planning tool in the
PBL approach.
The methods used to obtain the first impressions
were a survey based on expert opinion along with
workshop. The survey consists of an online
questionnaire in which we adopted the Likert scale
five propositions with the following possible values:
-2, -1, 0, +1, +2, indicating: disagree totally,
partially disagree, neutral, partially agree and totally
agree, respectively. In this research, the results are
obtained through the collection of perceptions and
feedback of professors who already have experience
in planning in education PBL approach.
In all, six aspects were evaluated: Usability,
Functionality, Design, Understanding, Work
Collaborative and Satisfaction. The objective of this
assessment for every assessed aspect and some
questions is described below:
Usability: To assess the level of the tool usage.
Q1 – It is easy to use the PBL Canvas Toolkit for
Functionality: To assess the compliance of the
PBL planning use adoption.
Q2 - I found the PBL Planner Toolkit appropriate
as a tool for course planning.
Design: To evaluate forms and legibility of the
Q8 - The cards texts are legible.
Understanding: To assess the degree of ease
understanding and comprehension of the rules for
the tool usage.
Q10 - The Cards are easy to understand its use.
Collaborative Work: To evaluate aspects of
communication, cooperation and collaboration
among those involved in the planning.
Q12- PBL Planner Toolkit has enabled a better
COLLABORATION during planning.
Satisfaction: To evaluate the perception of
satisfaction and pleasure in the use of the Toolkit.
Q15 - I recommend the use of PBL Planner
Toolkit for planning.
The results were obtained through the realization
of 3 educational planning workshops in 3 higher
education institutions in the State of
Pernambuco/Brazil with professors from
Information Systems and Computer Science courses.
Each workshop had a total average duration of 3
hours and consisted of the concepts presentations
and the PBL approach and the presentation of the
PBL Canvas Toolkit which was explained to what
was proposed and how to use it. Soon after the
presentations, the professors present in the workshop
were divided into groups of up to 5 members and
were asked to collaboratively carry out a teaching
plan for a course of their choice using the PBL
Canvas Toolkit.
After the planning completion the questionnaire
was sent through a link, so the professors could
answer the evaluative questions about the Toolkit. In
total, 34 professors participated in the workshops
and 14 of these answered the questionnaire.
These 14 teachers represent significantly the
target audience of PBL Toolkit. With respect to the
professors’ profile, there were 5 doctors, 5 masters
and 4 specialists; 10 professors with average
teaching experience time of 4.5 years and 4
professors with an average of 23.5 years of
experience; 4 professors work in public institutions
and 10 in private institutions. Regarding knowledge
of the PBL approach, 7 professors claim to possess a
low knowledge, 5 professors with average
knowledge and 2 professors with high knowledge.
The responses are consolidated in Table 3.
PBL Planner Toolkit: A Canvas-based Tool for Planning PBL in Software Engineering Education
Table 3: Responses of the professors.
Aspects Questions -2 -1 0 1 2
Usability Q1 0 2 3 3 6
Q2 0 0 2 3 9
Q3 0 1 4 5 4
Q4 0 0 3 2 9
Q5 0 0 2 2 10
Q6 1 0 2 2 9
Q7 0 1 2 3 8
Q8 0 2 3 4 5
Q9 0 2 2 3 7
Q10 0 2 2 3 7
Q11 0 0 2 4 8
Q12 0 0 2 3 9
Q11 0 0 2 2 10
Q14 0 0 3 0 11
Q15 0 0 2 1 11
The Usability aspect had only a single question
(Q1) which served to measure the professors'
perception of the ease of use of the Toolkit. Six
professors totally agreed (42.86%) that it is easy to
use the Toolkit to plan and other 3 said that they
partially agree (21.43). Adding these two scales we
will have 64.29% of the total of respondents which
indicates a good usability index.
On the Functionality aspect, overall, 59% of the
professors indicated that they fully agree with the
questions that evaluate the aspect. This indicates that
the Toolkit has suitable characteristics and features
for educational planning activities (Q2) such as
completeness (Q4), reflective thinking (Q5) and
better structuring and sequencing of activities (Q6).
However, question 3 (Q3), that evaluates the
flexibility of the Toolkit for changes did not obtain a
score compatible with the other issues regarding the
Functionality aspect. We believe that the flexibility
was somewhat compromised due to dependencies
that are created between the fields of the Canvas,
such as the planning is being carried out. For
example, the relationship between objectives and
indicators of success. It is likely that having the
removal or alteration of an item from one of these
fields will need to reflect the change in the other
field as well.
The Design aspect only evaluated characteristics
of the cards. Question 7 (Q7) verified the
appropriateness of the card size, and obtained 8
professors who totally agreed (57.14%) and another
3 who partially agreed (21.43%). This added gives
us an approval percentage of 78.57%. However,
question 8 (Q8) which evaluated the readability of
the texts of the cards obtained 64.28% of approval,
adding the professors who totally agreed (35.71%)
and partially (28.57%). It is understood that because
the cards are still a prototype and paper type is still
not definite, the approval percentage could increase,
once readability is improved.
The Understanding aspect also has two
questions. The first (Q9) evaluated how clear the
instructions were and the use of the Toolkit and the
second question (Q10) evaluated how easy it was to
understand how to use the cards. Both questions
obtained the same response reaching 72% approval
adding professors that totally agree (50%) with those
who partially agreed (22%).
The penultimate aspect assessed was the
Collaborative Work containing three questions. The
first one (Q11) evaluated the communication
promoted by the Toolkit and obtained 57.14% of the
professors totally agreeing and another 28.57%
partially agreeing. This resulted in 85.71% of
approval. The following questions (Q12) that
evaluated the collaboration and (Q11) that evaluated
the cooperation obtained the same indices of
question 11, that is, 85.71% of the professors
confirming the contribution of the Toolkit in the
aspect of collaboration and cooperation during
The last aspect assessed was Satisfaction through
two questions. The first question (Q14) evaluated
the pleasure of the professors in using the Toolkit
and obtained 78.57 % approval. Same index for the
next question (Q15) that evaluated whether
professors would indicate the Toolkit to other
professors who wished to use it to carry out
The PBL Planner Toolkit presented in this article
aims to assist educators who wish to conduct
educational planning in the PBL approach through a
Canvas and a set of 40 cards that guide the filling of
the Canvas. The relevance of the proposition of a
tool to support teaching planning in PBL lies in the
shortage of specific tools for this purpose, especially
in the PBL approach. The diversity of aspects to be
considered in teaching planning with PBL reinforces
the need of support tools in this task so that the
planning is carried out in the best possible way.
The proposal for the creation of a specific canvas
for the PBL approach using xPBL as the core
methodology was to unite the positive characteristics
provided by the Canvas technique such as
collaboration, holistic vision, communication, and to
CSEDU 2018 - 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
safely preserve PBL principles through a PBL
methodology focused on Computer Science.
The initial results of the PBL Planner Toolkit
validations indicate very positive possibilities
regarding the productivity and usability of its use
for the teaching planning in PBL approach. As a
point of improvement, the evaluations indicate
adjustments regarding the relation between the fields
and the readability of the card texts. A more
thorough assessment of the aspect of usability is also
needed. On the other hand, the positive aspects
highlight the Collaborative Work aspect, since the
educational planning in the PBL approach must be
carried out so that all the stakeholders involved
participate. And so it is important to have
communication, collaboration and cooperation
because those are the three pillars for collaborative
work and the contribution given by the Toolkit and
professors who participated was acknowledged.
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