Jasper, anchored instruction and PBL

The theoretical framework that underpins the Jasper series is anchored instruction. Anchored instruction is instruction that is “situated in engaging, problem-rich environments that allow sustained exploration by students and teachers” (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992). The Jasper series is a video based instruction format that presents students with a complex problem, which requires many subproblems to be generated and solved for the main complex problem to be addressed. It uses an engaging narrative with embedded data to present the students with all the information they may require to engage with the complex problem. This instructional approach promotes several teaching and learning activities that are central to constructivism. This includes generative learning, collaboration, active learning and engagement, and construction of knowledge.

Certainly the Jasper series could be presented without the use of technology. However technology does enhance the teaching and learning activities mentioned above. For example, the use of video could make the material more engaging due to the increased realism afforded by the video format (though it is a little dated now). This notion is supported by several papers, as highlighted by Taylor and Parsons (2011) in their review of the literature on student engagement. It can also be helpful for those students with learning challenges where an audio only narrative or reading only narrative would present a significant barrier.

Medical education has certainly moved in this direction. During the first two years, we have increased exposure of students to real clinical environments where they would learn though clinical encounters in a situated learning environment. In addition to this, their didactic lectures are taught along side problem-based learning activities, which is essentially anchored instruction. Our school currently does not use a video format, but a written digital document is provided to students in small groups, which gives students a clinical scenario. They then discuss the case to figure out what is going on with the patient. In all groups, the members decide on what further knowledge is needed in order to move forward with the case scenario. During this discussion portion, they are not allowed to use any resources other than their own ideas and experiences, which promotes discussion, collaboration and reflection. Once they have established learning objectives for the group, the first session ends and they have 1-2 days to research their learning objectives (either collaboratively or individually, depending on the group). They then reconvene and discuss the learning objectives before more of the clinical scenario is revealed. Typically, each case is discussed over 2-3 group sessions.

I think that in our problem-based learning groups, technology can be used to enhance collaboration and generative learning. For example, concepts maps may be useful to organize the group’s thoughts in a visual manner, adding to collaboration and generation of ideas. The use of something like Google Docs which affords collaboration asynchronously could also be helpful in collaboration outside of the group meetings. A video format could also be helpful to refine students’ observational skills as this is a critical part of the medical assessment, and again help to create an authentic/realistic environment.


Cognition, Vanderbilt TGA. The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. ETR&D. 1992;40(1):65-80. doi:10.1007/BF02296707.

Taylor, L. & Parsons, J. (2011). Improving Student Engagement. Current Issues in Education,14(1). Retrieved from http://cie.asu.edu/


  1. Hello Momoe!

    I enjoyed reading your post, particularly where you mention that the “Jasper series could be presented without the use technology”. On first read that was a head scratcher. For starters, you need the video technology. Also, in our program that is constantly focused on how technology can be used in a truly transformative way (like the Google Docs you mention later), I would be shy about suggesting that the Jasper series is employing technology in a surface way. That’s just a baloney deference to authority, though. : )

    I have an example of Jasper-type changes (in that the activities are complex and highly collaborative) that are happening for us locally and require no technology. I tried using Pascal Exams from U of Waterloo (http://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/contests/pcf.html) to teach math to grade 9 students this year. Because the exam is a hodge-podge of topics and complexities, the students have to figure out what tools to use, rather than just doing a bunch of the same questions in a row. The format was 30 minutes of individual work, followed by 20 minutes of group work to argue and rationalize, then 20 minutes of direct instruction around problem areas for the group (I used a scantron analysis sheet). The grading was all formative. They loved it, and had great scores across the school when the actual exam came by in February. Perhaps this a more valuable assessment than regular exams? Or maybe its just more “teaching to the test”?

    Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992a). The Jasper experiment: An exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 40(1), 65-80.

    1. Sorry. I should clarify. I mean that the content of the videos in Jasper could be presented in a non-tech format. For example, it could be a story written in a book that had all the information within it to solve the complex problem. We do this often in medicine, where we present students with clinical scenarios in a written format. Of course, we could make a video to make it more interesting, but we generally present the material in written format.

      I liked your example of the Pascal exams. I think it’s great that the students are learning strategies and not just content. Their improved exam scores are likely a result of that ability to know which strategies to use, which allows student to apply content learned to different situations.

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