Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Regardless of discipline, some content lends itself to opportunities for students to engage in the community and be more self-directed in their learning. Project-based learning can provide a structure to increase student inquiry and motivation.
What is PBL? Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Essential Elements of PBL include:
- Significant Content – At its core, the project is focused on teaching students important knowledge and skills, derived from standards and key concepts at the heart of academic subjects.
- 21st century competencies – Students build competencies valuable for today’s world, such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity/innovation, which are explicitly taught and assessed.
- In-Depth Inquiry – Students are engaged in an extended, rigorous process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers.
- Driving Question – Project work is focused by an open-ended question that students understand and find intriguing, which captures their task or frames their exploration.
- Need to Know – Students see the need to gain knowledge, understand concepts, and apply skills in order to answer the Driving Question and create project products, beginning with an Entry Event that generates interest and curiosity.
- Voice and Choice – Students are allowed to make some choices about the products to be created, how they work, and how they use their time, guided by the teacher and depending on age level and PBL experience.
- Critique and Revision – The project includes processes for students to give and receive feedback on the quality of their work, leading them to make revisions or conduct further inquiry.
- Public Audience – Students present their work to other people, beyond their classmates and teacher.
Source: Buck Institute for Education
How Do I Plan Project-Based Learning?
Here is a good framework for the nuts-and-bolts planning project-based learning. Although written for middle-school students, all of these steps also apply to PBL in higher education. http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/stw/edutopia-stw-maine-project-learning-six-step-rubric-planning-successful-projects.pdf
How Can I Address the Challenges?
- Some students are less comfortable with self-directed learning. These students can benefit from explicit guidance in the steps of the project and accepting peer instruction and modeling.
- Group work can be challenging, particularly at a commuter university. Monitor student collaboration by communicating with them regularly. Have them put all of their work product and materials on Office365, a course Wiki, Blackboard, or some other collaborative technology-based support where you can monitor their progress.
- Assessing project-based learning can be difficult. To mitigate the challenge provide very specific, observable, and measurable learning targets in writing. For example: The group will give both group and individual grades.
- Long-term projects can be easy for students to put off. Incorporate periodic due dates for major stages of the project. Each step of the project builds on the prior, so giving students corrective feedback along the way is essential.
Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Project-Based Learning
- Project-based learning is related to, but not the same as, problem-based learning. Find the distinctions at http://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-vs-pbl-vs-xbl-john-larmerWorcester
- Institute on Project-Based Learning at Worcester Polytechnic Institute http://www.wpi.edu/academics/ugradstudies/institute.html and an overview of some applications and benefits of project-based learning in higher education at https://youtu.be/BHdvoEgWvXo
- Buck Institute for Education at http://bie.org/
- Project-Based Learning in Higher Education from Sam Houston State University http://www.shsu.edu/centers/project-based-learning/higher-education.html
- Project-Based Learning: A Resource for Instructors and Program Coordinators from the National Academy Foundation