542: Technology Supported Project Based Learning – What is PBL?

Week one in this course has been a good reminder of the key elements of effective Project Based Learning units and why they are effective for students. In looking through the responses to questions from other students in the course there were some clear similarities. Most people emphasized the necessity for projects to address authentic, real life issues while remaining true to the standards and curriculum of the course. Another common thread dealt with student choice and flexibility. Here is my response to the questions this week.


  • Define Project Based Learning. Describe the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.

Project based learning is a constructivist approach to education that combines inquiry, investigation, research, collaboration, and creation, centered around a driving question and culminating in the creation and presentation of an artifact.
Problem based learning involves many of the same strategies, however the end result is limited to solving a problem. With Project Based Learning students must work through problems in order to find solutions that they can apply in the creation of a project. Solving real life problems and applying that knowledge in the creation of relevant, real life projects elevates the importance and gives meaning to learning.

  • Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?

Project Based Learning has become an essential approach to teaching that engages students through maximizing relevance. PBL should not be thought of as something external to the curriculum, rather as a way to deliver the curriculum in a way that teaches concepts at the right time in order to use them in real life situations or simulations.
World renowned mathematician and educator from MIT, Seymour Papert states in an Edutopia video on Project Based Learning that the,
“ …first thing you have to do is give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means, you’ve got to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they’re getting.” By actually using the knowledge acquired during the exploration of a concept, rather than simply being tested on it, students are much more likely to gain a deeper understanding and maintain longer retention.
The collaborative nature of PBL is also an essential element of the process that cultivates valuable 21st century skills such as group interaction and communication. With the infusion of technology into PBL students are then given the opportunity to use the endless resources of the Internet, as well as the many technology tools available, in the investigation, collaboration, and production of a project. This process simulates and requires many of the same skills necessary for success in a 21st century workforce.
Perhaps the main reason to use PBL in the classroom is simply because it motivates students. Students choose to explore what is relevant to them in authentic environments with the ultimate goal of presenting an artifact, often to professionals outside of the school community. It is the high degree of relevance that stimulates motivation.

  • What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?

Effective PBL units have several essential elements. They must have flexibility to allow for many learning paths and are cumulative in order for students to generate meaning. The unit must center on a driving question that compels students to explore a real life or simulated life experience and span the scope of many academic disciplines. The effective unit should tap the resources of the community, both virtually and in person and leverage the power of the Internet to access vast resources and primary sources. Within the unit there must be opportunities for students to learn from and with each other and collaborate in the creation of the artifact, putting them in the role of the “inquiring expert.” The effective PBL unit should emphasize student responsibility for their own learning, allowing them the freedom to make choices about what is important for them within the context of the question and also allow for adequate opportunities for feedback and revision. Ultimately the end result of inquiry and investigation is the creation of the project or artifact and its presentation.

Boss S. & Krauss J. (2007) Reinventing Project Based Learning. International Society for Technology in Education.

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