We often hear that school is meant to prepare students for the real world, but the methods of learning and assessment commonly found in schools are rarely applicable to the world outside of the classroom. Once they have graduated, they will no longer deal with lectures and tests on one single subject at a time: instead, their jobs will require them to answer complex questions or contribute to the making of a product by using skills and knowledge from multiple areas and applying them to real problems and needs.
This requires a different way of thinking that, like any other skill, needs training. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity are abilities that require practice just as much as reading and writing: one particularly effective way to provide said practice is project-based learning or PBL.
In project-based learning, students are involved in a project lasting for an extended period of time and learn the necessary information and abilities through the project itself. PBL is not a final project intended to test how much they have learnt from lectures and homework, it is the means through which the learning occurs. In PBL, the teacher becomes the manager and guide who coordinates the students’ efforts and imparts not only facts and figures, but also marketable 21st century skills.
Of course, if PBL is to be a realistic simulation of work tasks, technology must be a part of it: almost all jobs have been transformed by technology one way or another, so it stands to reason that learning should be similarly affected. Let’s look at the ways technology can successfully interact with project-based learning.
1. Connecting to the real world
The essence of PBL is to assign a meaningful project with an impact that reaches beyond the classroom. A real project cannot be accomplished without real-world information, and of course, the Web is a window to the real world. Without ever leaving the school, students can use the Internet to collect useful data for their project and train their research and critical thinking skills by identifying reputable sources.
2. Online teamwork
The bulk of the work in a PBL project will happen in class, but conference calls, shared folders and similar workflow apps allow students to take teamwork home with them and add to the project outside school hours. Tools such as Skype also let students communicate not only amongst themselves, but also with experts in the field who can give them valuable information and feedback without physically coming to the school.
3. Eye-catching presentations
Any project needs to be presented and PBL projects are no different. Technology can give a boost to student presentations by adding a multimedia aspect to project-based learning: the final product can contain photos, graphs, audio files, videos or any sort of medium the subject requires. This not only makes the project look professional and pleasant to look at, but also improves the students’ digital literacy.
4. A blend of methods
Thanks to technology, project-based learning can also be blended with other popular teaching innovations. PBL, for example, is the ideal companion to the Flipped Classroom model: if students learn their lessons at home through instructional videos, class time can be fully devoted to the project. Their retention of knowledge can also be tested with quizzes providing instant feedback or grades, taking some of the burden of evaluation off the teacher’s shoulders, and the results will speak for themselves: more often than not, you will find that doing a project ensures better understanding than listening to a lecture.
5. Going public
A real project needs a real audience, and of course, there is no greater audience than the Internet. Providing a safe platform for students to share their final product online and get feedback from the public gives them a final goal to reach and a sense that they are doing something real that will be seen by more people than just their teacher, their families and their peers.
In conclusion, project-based learning and technology are a match made in heaven: using digital resources opens up an entire world of possibilities for students to make their projects the best they can be and learn real-world skills in the process.