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Moursund, D.G. (1999). Project-based learning using information technology (Selected Chapters) Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.
The materials that follow are from a next-to-final version of the above named book.
This chapter begins with a very brief introduction to information technology-assisted project-based learning (IT-assisted PBL). It then presents an example of an IT-assisted PBL lesson. It concludes with a brief discussion of some possible goals of an IT-assisted PBL lesson.
PBL focuses on a problem to be solved or a task to be accomplished. The single most important idea in solving problems and accomplishing tasks is building on the previous work of yourself and others. When faced by a challenging problem or task, you make use of the knowledge, skills, and aids that have been developed by other people, as well as your own knowledge, skills, and previous work.
This idea is illustrated in Figure 1.1. In this figure, a person or a group of people (a Problem or Task Team) that wants to solve a complex problem or accomplish a complex task draws upon three major categories of help.
Figure 1.1. The components supporting a P/T Team.
One of the major goals of education is to help students learn to solve complex problems and accomplish complex tasks. Students need to receive substantial instruction and practice in functioning in a Problem or Task Team (P/T Team) environment. IT-assisted PBL is specifically designed to help students learn to function in this environment. Appendix C of this book explores problem solving and the P/T Team in more detail.
The word "Team" was carefully chosen. Even if there is only one person on the team, the team draws on a wide range of resources that have been developed by other people. We know a lot about how training, experience, and practice help a team to become more effective. In this book we focus on IT-assisted PBL as a vehicle for helping students learn to work effectively in a P/T Team environment.
The P/T Team is a unifying idea in education. Each component of education can be analyzed from the point of view of how it contributes to an individual or a group of individuals functioning in a P/T team environment. Moreover, we can see how progress in developing better mental aids, better physical aids, or a better educational system can all contribute to increasing the capabilities of a P/T Team.
This section contains a brief description of an IT-assisted PBL lesson. This lesson focuses on a research, writing, and presentation task to be accomplished. The lesson can be adapted for use with students of widely varying abilities and at various grade levels. The difficulty or challenge of the task to be accomplished can be adjusted to the knowledge and skill levels of the students.
This IT-assisted PBL lesson will create a classroom environment in which the teacher will learn alongside the students. As you read through the lesson plan ideas given below, think what you might learn from your students as they carry out the PBL lesson.
The class is divided into teams of three to four students. Each team is to:
This is a very open ended assignment. More detail is needed before students can get started. Here are some examples of the types of questions that need to be addressed:
There are many other questions that might arise. The teacher may deliberately choose to not answer some of them. For example, "How long does the newspaper need to be? How long does my article need to be?" From a teacher point of view, you want the individual teams and the individual students to push themselves. Indeed, you might promote a spirit of competition between teams. You want an appropriate balance between quality and quantity. You want the articles to have authentic, well researched content. You want each individual student to expend sustained effort throughout the project. Some students will write multiple articles. Others may spend a great deal of time of researching and developing a single article. Some teams will spend a lot of time preparing their presentations and may "wow" the class.
A major PBL lesson should end with the whole class participating in a debriefing session. What were the good and not so good features of the project? What would make it a more valuable learning experience to individual students and to the whole class? What new projects are suggested by the work that has been done?
Many PBL lessons can be used year after year, perhaps with only minor revisions. A good PBL lesson may have off shoots, or variations, that can be used in future lessons. Here are several extensions and/or variations on the lesson discussed above.
This book focuses on PBL in an information technology environment. The suggested classroom activities can be carried out using whatever information technology is available in the school, home, and community environment. A school need not have the latest, greatest, and best IT facilities.
However, there is an underlying hardware and software goal that this book supports. Students need to learn to make routine, everyday use of IT as an aid to carrying out projects. The general type of hardware and software needed and/or that students should be routinely using include:
o The generic tools such as word processor, spreadsheet, database, paint, and draw software. Generic tools cut across all academic disciplines, much in the same way that reading, writing, and arithmetic cut across all disciplines. The needed generic tools may be in an integrated package or as individual pieces of software.
In many classrooms, some of these facilities are not yet available. However, that should not be used as a barrier to engaging students in IT-assisted PBL. The key idea is that whatever the students have available can be used in PBL. While part of an IT-assisted PBL lesson may focus on the hardware and software, the more important and long-lasting learning components focuses on topics that are relatively independent of any specific hardware and software.
Some teachers feel that a student must learn a great deal about a particular computer tool before beginning to make use of it in project-based learning. This book takes the opposite tack. With a minimum of knowledge about a compute tool, a student can begin to use it to carry out a project. The project then serves as a motivation and provides an authentic context for learning more about the tool. Learning about the tool and using the tool to carry out a project are thoroughly integrated.
Similarly, some teachers feel that they must know a great deal about a wide range of computer tools before beginning to engage their students in IT-assisted PBL. Indeed, many teachers find that this is a convenient excuse for not getting started in use of IT-assisted PBL. Many other teachers have found that once they get started (no matter how small their initial IT knowledge) they learn on the job. They learn from their students and they learn by doing. This book strongly supports such an approach!
In PBL, a great deal of peer instruction occurs. This is especially true in an IT environment. All students can and should learn to help their peers and others to learn about IT and how to make use of IT in carrying out a project. Indeed, peer instruction and peer assessment can be a component of every IT-assisted PBL lesson.
An IT-assisted PBL lesson has multiple goals. Typically, these include:
A good IT-assisted PBL lesson is apt to include all 10 of the goals listed above. These goals, along with any other major process and learning goals in the lesson, provide a framework for evaluation and for assessment. And, don't forget that you should have personal learning goals in every PBL assignment. At the end of the lesson, spend some time analyzing what you learned during the lesson.
This section contains a brief introduction to three additional PBL ideas. These topics are treated in more detail in later chapters of this book.
All of these learner-centered characteristics of PBL contribute to learner motivation and active engagement. A high level of intrinsic motivation and active engagement are essential to the success of a PBL lesson.
The terms lower order and higher order are often applied to these two overarching goals in education. Both are essential to being an educated person. Thus, educators and others are concerned about the relative emphasis to place on each as well as which comes first. The general conclusion of educational leaders is that most educational lessons should contain an emphasis on both lower-order and higher-order knowledge and skills. That is, lower-order knowledge and skills should be gained in the context of solving challenging problems and accomplishing challenging tasks.
In a PBL lesson, a unifying goal is for students to work on solving a challenging problem or accomplishing a challenging task. Every PBL lesson should include an emphasis on higher-order knowledge and skills.
It is important to distinguish between feedback or formative evaluation, and assessment. During a project, students may receive formative evaluation (feedback) from themselves, their peers, their teacher, and from other sources. This feedback helps students to learn and helps students to produce a high quality final product, presentation, or performance. While some teachers will make use of this formative evaluation information in grading a student (assessing a student), others will base assessment mainly on the final product. Most often a student is assessed both on process and product. Keep in mind that a good learning environment allows students to experiment, to try things that may not turn out to be successful. A good assessment system should encourage and reward such trial and error, rather than punish it.
Chapter 4 discuss the research and theory underlying IT-assisted PBL. The research and underlying theory are strong, but they are not overwhelmingly strong. Moreover, IT-assisted PBL presents many challenges to teachers and to our educational system. Assessment is a major issue, and Chapter 7 is devoted to it. Many teachers find that they need inservice education help in order to increase their comfort levels in initially beginning to use IT-assisted PBL.
The general material of this book has been presented in a number of workshops for inservice teachers. These presentations never fail to evoke testimonials from teachers who make use of PBL in their teaching. Invariably, several teachers in the workshop will tell the group that use of PBL is an important part of their teaching repertoire and that they will never go back to "traditional" teaching. Often their testimonials are impassioned--the teachers have become true believers in this style of teaching.
Many teachers are teaching in environments that place a heavy emphasis on students doing well on national or state tests. Often these tests emphasize lower-order knowledge and skills. Teachers know that they can help their students to achieve higher test scores if they specifically teach to the tests. They also know that much of this test-oriented knowledge and skill does not stick with the student--that is, it has little lasting value. Veteran PBL teachers feel that their students learn and retain the basics because they are learning and practicing their basics in an authentic environment. There is a growing collection of research that supports this contention.
A. Start a journal. Begin your journal by discussing the idea of P/T Team. Does this seem like an important idea? How would you convince a parent or a school board member that this is an important idea in education?
B. Make some entries in your journal each time you read a chapter or part of a chapter. From time to time you may want to go back to earlier entries and write in additional comments.
A. Which of these 10 general goals would you emphasize as goals in the historical newspaper project given in this chapter? Name one or more additional major goals that seems appropriate to you.
B. For the goals you pick in 4A, what percentages (totaling 100%) would you assign to each? How would you actually do these assessments? Explain how your assessment methods will be valid, reliable, and fair.
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