The timing of the Deeper Learning MOOC, a massive open online course dedicated in large part to Project Based Learning, could not have been better. A host of organizations were introduced and resources shared and discussed, as well as models and frameworks that I could use to inform and enrich my role as a facilitator and coach.
During the Week 9 Participants Panel, moderator Rob Riordan remarked to me, ‘If you want to get engaged in deeper learning, a good way to start is to schedule an exhibition.’
His words reminded me of a quote by the prolific composer Duke Ellington: ‘I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.’
If an exhibition is the overall objective of a school year, I discovered that it provides a strong structure on which to practice skills and pursue inquiry. But more importantly, it provides a deadline to complete a project. Deanna Mascle recently reflected in her post, Why Project-Based Learning?, ‘In project-based learning (PBL) the project is the learning – and the teaching and learning take place through the project.’ The trick for facilitators is to maximize, document, and curate the learning throughout the process.
Designing the framework
My solution was to use individual wikis as ‘home bases’ on which each student could document all aspects of their inquiries according to an outline of requirements. As they worked, we held regular consultations to discuss and document the formal elements, such as applications of academic skills and conceptual understandings, of their projects.
Looking back, I should have done more to structure these formal elements on a calendar. For example, while reflection with a teacher or mentor is important, it would have been more effective to schedule activities in which students cooperate to assess and discuss each others’ projects-in-progress by focusing on particular elements in each session.
Limiting the scope of the products was very effective for increasing student agency, although in the future, I plan to focus on each as an assessment task by itself during the school year to develop applicable skills.
Rubrics were also a key feature for setting expectations. These were created collaboratively as a class early in the process and were based on the model that we have used throughout the year. By clearly defining success criteria for the formal elements, I believe that we maximized opportunities for students to exercise choice and direct their own learning.
Synthesizing the theme
Unfortunately, few reflections were ‘deep’. They generally lacked emotion and personal connection. This is my greatest challenge for future long term projects. How can we utilize technology for formative reflection more effectively?
One idea is to provide prompts for each reflection. Similar to the documentation process needing more structure and opportunities for peer-interaction, I think that the reflection process needs more scaffolding, at least in the beginning. There are rich possibilities, such as choosing prompts at random or me, as a coach, writing prompts that become increasingly complex and challenging.
If the project is the learning, then formative reflection and self-assessment is the most important facet of its documentation. This is an area that requires significant attention and a line of inquiry that I am excited to pursue and would welcome collaborators!
The resolution of the cognitive dissonance students experience occurs when they assume responsibility for their learning processes, agency for their choice of actions, and ownership of their learning artifacts.