A recent George Lucas Education Foundation (GLEF) article makes the case that providing each student with a laptop computer does not by itself improve student learning. District or state laptop programs are bound to fail without a corresponding shift in curriculum to emphasize skills of communication and collaboration. What do they argue is the best way to teach communication and collaboration? Project-based learning.
Project-based learning has garnered quite a bit of attention in recent years. The article identifies four essential features of successful project-based learning.
- Create teams of three or more students to work on an in-depth project for three to eight weeks.
- Introduce a complex entry question that establishes a student's need to know, and scaffold the project with activities and new information that deepens the work.
- Calendar the project through plans, drafts, timely benchmarks, and finally the team's presentation to an outside panel of experts drawn from parents and the community.
- Provide timely assessments and/or feedback on the projects for content, oral and written communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and other important skills.
One may summarize these four cornerstones as Essential Questions, Group Work, Presentation, and Assessment.
Such projects take much longer to plan and execute than discussion or lecture-based instruction. Such learning is "messy," as the path of student learning often takes unexpected twists and turns on its way to an imprecisely defined end point. Project-based units do not fit as neatly into a school calendar as do the parts of a content-based syllabus.
What qualities of the ideal project do you employ in your courses? Have you been pleased with the level of student learning in your classes? To what extent are student computers useful in schools without a corresponding shift toward project-based learning?