PBL Home Page

Outline of These Materials

1. Future of ICT in Education

2. Learning Goals in a PBL Lesson

3. What is ICT-Assisted PBL?

4. Planning a PBL Lesson

5. Authoring a Hypermedia Document

6. Timeline and Milestones

7. Assessment

8. FAQ and Conclusions


Send Email to Website Author Dave Moursund

Part 3: What is ICT-Assisted PBL?

A project results in a product, presentation, or performance.

Definition: PBL is an individual or group activity that goes on over a period of time, resulting in a product, presentation, or performance. It typically has a timeline, milestones, and other aspects of formative evaluation as the project proceeds.

Detailed Definition of PBL

  1. The general idea is that PBL is a multi-goaled activity that goes on over a period of time, resulting in a product, presentation, or performance. Typically PBL has milestones and other aspects of formative evaluation as the project proceeds. PBL shares much in common with Process Writing.
  2. Project-based learning is learner centered. Students have a significant voice in selecting the content areas and nature of the projects that they do. There is considerable focus on students understanding what it is they are doing, why it is important, and how they will be assessed. Indeed, students may help to set some of the goals over which they will be assessed and how they will be assessed over these goals. 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.

    Group discussion: What does it mean for education to be student-centered? Isn't all teaching student centered? What evidence do we have that increasing the emphasis on a lesson being student centered leads to better quality education?
  3. From the student point of view. PBL:
    1. Is learner centered and intrinsically motivating.
    2. Encourages collaboration and cooperative learning.
    3. Requires students to produce a product, presentation, or performance.
    4. Allows students to make incremental and continual improvement in their product, presentation, or performance.
    5. Is designed so that students are actively engaged in "doing" things rather then in "learning about" something.
    6. Is challenging, focusing on higher-order knowledge and skills.
    Group Discussion: Compare and contrast intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If I could see inside a student's brain while the student was engaged in a task, how could I tell if the student was being driven by intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? What can a teacher do to increase a student's motivation?
  4. From the teacher point of view, PBL:
    1. Has authentic content and purpose.
    2. Uses authentic assessment.
    3. Is teacher facilitated—but the teacher is much more a "guide on the side" rather than a "sage on the stage."
    4. Has explicit educational goals.
    5. Is rooted in constructivism (a social learning theory) and gives careful consideration to situated learning theory.
    6. Is designed so that the teacher will be a learner, learning from and with the students.
    Group Discussion: What are constructivism and situated learning? How are they similar and how are they different? What research is there that says these are important considerations in designing a unit of study? Give some examples of non-PBL curriculum that is rooted in constructivism and situated learning theory.
  5. Mechanics of doing and assessing a project:
    1. Teacher plays a major role in setting the learning goals of the project.
    2. Teacher and students provide formative evaluation.
    3. Teacher, students, and others may help in the summative (final) evaluation.
    4. Teacher is "guide on the side" rather than "sage on the stage."

Process Writing

PBL shares much in common with Process Writing. The roots of Process Writing as taught in the United States are often traced back to the Bay Area Writers Project circa 1975. Click here for more information about Process Writing. A six step version of Process Writing is:

  1. brainstorming
  2. organizing the brainstormed ideas
  3. developing a draft
  4. obtaining feedback
  5. revising, which may involve going back to earlier steps
  6. publishing

Most good writers give the advice "revise, revise, revise" to people seeking advice on how to become a good writer. Dean Koontz (a popular and prolific author) indicates that each part of his books gets revised about 70 times.

From the above point of view, doing writing is doing a project. Indeed, if the writer makes use of a word processor, uses the Web to search for information, uses email to communicate, etc. during the writing process, then this is a good example of ICT-Assisted PBL.

The idea of "revise, revise, revise" is applicable to doing any kind of an ICT-Assisted PBL project. Indeed, it is fundamental in solving problems and accomplishing tasks in every discipline. A PBL-based unit of study inherently includes problem solving and "revise, revise, revise."

Research Supporting PBL

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." (Confucius)

The Japanese have a highly centralized school system. The following quote is from Education Week [Online}. Accessed 8/11/02: http://www.edweek.com/ew/newstory.cfm?slug=43japan.h21. (Free registration required to access the article online.)

Japan's revised national course of study, which went into effect for elementary and junior high school students this past spring and will kick in for those in senior high next year, has been reduced by as much as 30 percent to make room for more hands-on learning and student- guided projects. Education officials here hope the new approach to schooling will better equip students with the problem-solving skills many educators say are essential in a knowledge-based economy.

This brief quote suggests that the Japanese have decided that substantial use of project-based learning will improve the education of their students. Notice the emphasis on "hands-on learning and student-guided projects" and the emphasis on better equipping students with problem-solving skills.

The research literature specifically on project-based learning is somewhat limited in breadth and depth. Thus, it is important to study the research on closely related approaches to education. Research in each of the following areas contributes to the assertion that PBL is effective.

  1. Constructivism and Situated Learning.
  2. Motivation Theory (intrinsic motivation).
  3. Inquiry & Discovery-Based Learning.
  4. Cooperative Learning.
  5. Peer instruction.
  6. Individual & Collaborative Problem Solving.
  7. Problem-Based Learning.
  8. Rubrics—clearly defined (not hidden) expectations.
  9. Multiple forms of assessment. Authentic assessment. Clearly defined rubrics facilitating self-assessment, peer assessment, assessment by the teacher, and assessment by outside experts.
  10. Direct research studies on PBL.

Individual and small group activity. Take a look at the detailed Definition of PBL given earlier in this section. Analyze your proposed ICT-Assisted PBL lesson from the point of view of how well it satisfies 1-5 in the definition. Then share with about two other people in a small group. Keep in mind that ICT-Assisted PBL does not have a narrow, precise definition. However, if your project lesson seems relatively far removed from the ideas given in #1, you may want to modify your project lesson.

Whole group discussion. What are the strengths and the weaknesses of the research supporting the effectiveness of PBL? Do you find the general nature of the evidence convincing?

Individual and small group activity. Browse the References section of this Website. Each participant is to find one reference that they find particularly relevant to their own particular interests. Then, share some details about this reference within a group of 3-4 participants.

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