Using Tech in Project-Based Learning

6 Winning Strategies for Using EdTech in a PBL Environment

In a project-based learning (PBL) setting, students explore real-world problems and challenges. This approach is a wonderful way for students to develop creativity and problem-solving skills as they become deeply engaged in content and are self-motivated to take their learning further.

When looking at problem-solving in a real-world context, appropriate technology use needs to be a consideration. What technologies are available that can help us find a solution and how do we determine the right strategy? To discover answers in the classroom context, we asked six educators, “What's your favorite strategy for using technology within a project-based learning environment?” Here’s what they said:

1.) The Google Suite for Education is incredibly helpful for students who are collaborating on a project. The G Suite also gives teachers the opportunity to provide real-time feedback to students as they’re working through various components of the project. Another helpful tool is an online platform called Nepris. This platform provides access to guest speakers, subject matter experts, and project mentors—such a great way for students to interact with an authentic audience!

Richard Kincaid ― Chief Innovation Officer for EcoRise, an organization whose school based program empowers youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching environmental literacy, social innovation and hands-on design skills.

2.) Others will answer this question better than I can, but the real answer is: Use anything that works. PBL is not technology dependent—that’s a mythology from the early days when technologists in the late 90’s began to push a purely constructivist or discovery version of PBL. At its heart, PBL is a simple process: Engage students in a challenging, open-ended problem; turn them loose in teams to research, weigh, design, and create; give them adequate doses of essential knowledge and core content; and expect them to produce a well-constructed, thoughtful public product that shows what they have learned and concluded. Where does technology fit into the process? Wherever people today normally use technology to find and share stuff.

Thom Markham ― Pioneer PBL advocate, thought leader, and founder of pblglobal.com who has shared his expertise in project based learning with over 6000 teachers worldwide.

3.) As voice and choice is an essential component to any PBL product, one of the easiest ways to integrate technology, and my personal favorite, is using technology as a product for student learning. We want students to apply their learning in a variety of contexts in a PBL project. We also value authenticity in a PBL experience. Both of these ideas “scream” for technology to be leveraged as students create their products. Products that leverage technology could be websites, podcasts, movies, public service announcements, and presentations; all of which are highly authentic and allow students to express their creativity. By using technology-based products, we are allowing students to express their learning in assessments that are meaningful, rather than a simple pen and paper examination. It only makes sense for students to show their learning through technology.

Andrew Miller ― Instructional coach at Shanghai American School, educational consultant specializing in formative assessment, project-based learning, and technology integration, and author of Freedom to Fail (ASCD).

4.) My favorite strategy for using technology within a PBL environment: not using technology! Okay, maybe that's not quite the right wording...more along the lines of think about how technology will make your project more effective and let that drive the usage. Allow for the project to demand when and if technology is utilized. Content can easily slip away and be masked by the glitz and glam of the latest tech. Projects that integrate technology at appropriate times, driven by the needs of how it is unfolding, generally have more success and the information sources are often sound (and necessary). This is how we do life (efficiently and with purpose) and therefore, we want our learners equipped with best practice.

Meredith Allen Educational Ambassador for the collaborative online audio recording studio Soundtrap who focuses on creating deeper learning through student-centered, problem-based learning experiences that result in student agency and authentic work.

5.) One of my favorite strategies for using technology within the project based learning environment is the creation of a digital repository.  Being able to create a digital space to store and build resources for students to access such as accurate content-based websites, articles, blog posts, videos, pictures, images, etc. allows me to provide students with accurate and specific materials to their PBL that they can then independently or collaboratively access and use in their groups.  Once I model for them how to create a digital repository, I then transfer this opportunity to students and then they are able to show the tracks of their research and inquiry through the creating and building of their own digital repository.  I am a fan of free web 2.0 based sites that are for educators and a few of my favorites are Symbaloo, TES Blendspace, Prezi, and of course Google Drive.

Dawn Mitchell ― Adjunct instructor at Furman University and instructional services professional in Spartanburg District 6, South Carolina.

6.) One technology strategy that I have embraced over the last several years is the use of the video recording abilities found within the Learning Management System, Itslearning.  For a project where the students are presenting the final product in front of a group, the video recording ability provides ample opportunity for critique and revision.  The students can create a practice run of the presentation and submit the recording through an assignment task in Itslearning.  This gives students and teachers the opportunity to provide feedback on the presentation before the final product.  Those without the video capabilities of Itslearning, the students upload videos to Youtube and submit a link.

Scott Taylor ― Science teacher at Dorman High Freshman Campus in Spartanburg, SC, and adjunct instructor at Furman University and at University of South Carolina Upstate.

To hear hundreds of innovative analysts, thought leaders, and educators discuss the future of education, practical strategies for success, and the best uses of technology in schools and classrooms, attend the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC), January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. Learn more here.

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