Project-Based Learning

Well-designed projects put the students in charge of finding new information, processing this data in accordance with what they already know, and then sharing their newly acquired insights. These are, obviously, skills that will serve students well as they journey into the world. Moreover, this process also invites students to actively engage with course content in order to construct meaning from their research efforts. Years later, most students will remember the ways they applied course content far more than they’ll remember content covered on tests or written about in papers.

From a faculty perspective, transmitting course content in the form of a lecture or a reading is sometimes easier than helping students wrestle with information they’ve found on their own. Indeed, projects can be more work for both students and faculty. Yet, this sort of in-the-trenches learning provides an opportunity to really see the ways in which students are deeply engaging with course content, solving problems, and applying course concepts. A broken clock is right twice a day: students can guess or deduce the right answers to test questions. Student projects, on the other hand, provide a variety of opportunities that allow the instructor to assess student learning with greater confidence.

Here’s a short video about project-based learning. (The content is a great introduction to project-based learning; the faceless people are a little creepy, but, hey, so it goes, right?)

Perhaps you’re now thinking about incorporating project-based learning in your next course? Or maybe you already use projects, but you’re looking to tweak them a little? Time for some resources! While the exact tools you suggest (or require) students use will be a function of your course content and project parameters, the links below might help you think through building in opportunities for students to act as meaning-makers and knowledge mediators via course projects.

Ten Reasons to try 20% Time in the Classroom. The premise here is that you give over 20% of class time for students to focus on self-directed projects. If you’re on the fence about incorporating a major project into your course, these reasons might be worth considering.

The Eight Elements Project-based Learning Must Have. I’m no fan of firm of numbers (nor of the word “must”), but this article does have a handy checklist / simple rubric that is a great starting point for guidelines and rubrics you might give your students.

11 Essential Tools for Better Project-based Learning. Some of these tools we’ve discussed before, some are new to the blog; some have a cost, and some have lite or educational options that make them free or more affordable. Tools range from mind-mapping and visual thinking tools (Mindmeister and Glogster) that might be helpful in the early stages of the project to digital story-telling and presentation options (Animoto and Audioboo) and  that can help convey final results.

Project Ideas. This extensive list of potential project ideas comes from the Kaneb Center at Notre Dame. Note that this a list of ways students can convey their findings, rather than individual topics themselves.

Developing Alternate Research Assignments with Students and Faculty. This link is actually a short case summary of alternate research assignments in two music courses. In particular, I like the perspective offered here by the inclusion of the subject librarian.

Do you have a successful project that you assign? What makes it work so well? Alternately, if projects haven’t been your thing or haven’t quite clicked for your courses, tell us about that, too.

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