Project-based learning

KEY POINTS

    • Project-based learning is a pedagogical strategy in which students produce a product related to a topic.
    • The teacher sets the goals for the learner, and then allows the learner to explore the topic and create their project.
    • The teacher is a facilitator in this student-centered approach and provides scaffolding and guidance when necessary.
    • Proponents of project-based learning cite numerous benefits of these strategies including a greater depth of understanding of concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, increased creativity, and improved writing skills.
    • When students use technology as a tool to communicate with others, they take on an active role vs. a passive role of transmitting the information by a teacher, a book, or broadcast. The student is constantly making choices on how to obtain, display, or manipulate information.

DEFINITION

Project-based learning: Students independently gather resources and information to create a project and/or product.

FULL TEXT

Project-based learning, is a pedagogical method in which students are directed to create an artifact (or artifacts) to present their gained knowledge. Artifacts may include a variety of media such as writings, art, drawings, three-dimensional representations, videos, photography, or technology-based presentations. The basis of PBL lies in the authenticity or real-life application of the research and is considered an alternative to paper-based, rote memorization, teacher-led classrooms. Proponents of project-based learning cite numerous benefits to the implementation of these strategies in the classroom including a greater depth of understanding of concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, increased creativity, and improved writing skills.

John Dewey initially promoted the idea of “learning by doing. ” Educational research has advanced this idea of teaching and learning into a methodology known as “project-based learning. ” Blumenfeld & Krajcik (2006) cite studies by Marx et al., 2004, Rivet & Krajcki, 2004 and William & Linn, 2003 state that “research has demonstrated that students in project-based learning classrooms get higher scores than students in traditional classroom. ”

Project-based learning is not without its opponents, however; in Peer Evaluation in Blended Team Project-Based Learning: What Do Students Find Important? Hye-Jung & Cheolil (2012) describe social loafing as a negative aspect of collaborative learning. Social loafing may include insufficient performances by some team members as well as a lowering of expected standards of performance by the group as a whole to maintain congeniality amongst members. These authors said that because teachers tend to grade the finished product only, the social dynamics of the assignment may escape the teacher’s notice.

Elements

The core idea of project-based or inquiry based learning is that real-world problems capture students’ interest and provoke serious thinking as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context. The teacher plays the role of facilitator, working with students to frame worthwhile questions, structuring meaningful tasks, coaching both knowledge development and social skills, and carefully assessing what students have learned from the experience. Typical projects present a problem to solve (What is the best way to reduce the pollution in the schoolyard pond? ) or a phenomenon to investigate (What causes rain? ).

Examples

At the high school level, classroom activities may include making water purification systems, investigating service learning, or creating new bus routes. At the middle school level, activities may include researching trash statistics, documenting local history through interviews, or writing essays about a community scavenger hunt. Classes are designed to help diverse students become college and career ready after high school.

Roles

When students use technology as a tool to communicate with others, they take on an active role vs. a passive role of transmitting the information by a teacher, a book, or broadcast. The student is constantly making choices on how to obtain, display, or manipulate information. Technology makes it possible for students to think actively about the choices they make and execute. Every student has the opportunity to get involved either individually or as a group.

Instructor role in Project Based Learning is that of a facilitator. They do not relinquish control of the collaborative classroom or student learning but rather develop an atmosphere of shared responsibility. The Instructor must structure the proposed question/issue so as to direct the student’s learning toward content-based materials. The instructor must regulate student success with intermittent, transitional goals to ensure student projects remain focused and students have a deep understanding of the concepts being investigated. The students are held accountable to these goals through ongoing feedback and assessments. The ongoing assessment and feedback are essential to ensure the student stays within the scope of the driving question and the core standards the project is trying to unpack. According to Andrew Miller of the Buck Institute of Education, formative assessments are used “in order to be transparent to parents and students, you need to be able to track and monitor ongoing formative assessments, that show work toward that standard. ” The instructor uses these assessments to guide the inquiry based learning process and ensure the students have learned the required content. Once the project is finished, the instructor evaluates the finished product and learning that it demonstrates

Outcomes

Students learn to work in a community, thereby taking on social responsibilities. The most significant contributions of PBL have been in schools languishing in poverty stricken areas; when students take responsibility, or ownership, for their learning, their self-esteem soars. It also helps to create better work habits and attitudes toward learning. Although students do work in groups, they also become more independent because they are receiving little instruction from the teacher. With Project-Based Learning students also learn skills that are essential in higher education. The students learn more than just finding answers, PBL allows them to expand their minds and think beyond what they normally would. Students have to find answers to questions and combine them using critically thinking skills to come up with answers.

Opponents of Project Based Learning warn against negative outcomes primarily in projects that become unfocused and tangential arguing that underdeveloped lessons can result in the wasting of precious class time. No one teaching method has been proven more effective than another. Opponents suggest that narratives and presentation of anecdotal evidence included in lecture-style instruction can convey the same knowledge in less class time. Given that disadvantaged students generally have fewer opportunities to learn academic content outside of school, wasted class time due to an unfocused lesson presents a particular problem. Instructors can be deluded into thinking that as long as a student is engaged and doing, they are learning. Ultimately it is cognitive activity that determines the success of a lesson. If the project does not remain on task and content driven the student will not be successful in learning the material. The lesson will be ineffective. A source of difficulty for teachers includes, “Keeping these complex projects on track while attending to students’ individual learning needs requires artful teaching, as well as industrial-strength project management. ” Like any approach, Project Based Learning is only beneficial when applied successfully.