Apr 04 2017

Collaboration Is Key for Problem-Based Learning

CoSN report highlights the need for a nimble partnership between curriculum and IT.

We’ve heard the theory time and again: Decide the task your students are about to embark on, and then find the digital technology to fuel it. Any other process puts pedagogy last when it should be in the driver’s seat.

However, it’s also important that pedagogy not leave IT on the street without a ride.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released a report in February that takes a deep dive into project- and problem-based learning. The report explores how schools are using extensive projects and real-world teaching methods to increase student engagement, skills development and problem-solving techniques.

“Digital Tools for Problem-Based Learning,” part of CoSN’s EdTechNext series, offers best practices for educators and also highlights stories from several successful use cases, including at The Incubator School in Los Angeles; Avonworth School District in Allegheny County, Pa.; Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, Va.; and Energy Institute High School in Houston.

While this type of teaching may be well-known to educators, the report details innovative techniques and technologies that help support it.

“Project- and problem-based learning are not new approaches, but technology today has allowed students and educators to tackle real challenges as part of the learning experience,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in a statement announcing the report.

“Districts and their leaders have embraced new tools and ways to improve communication, collaboration and productivity among students globally. Students now, like in the real world, can take even greater ownership of the problem and solution.”

Timely Advice for Executing Ed Tech Projects

The report, which is available for free to all CoSN members, shares a number of useful tidbits, but a few stood out in a section titled “Advice for Succeeding with Project-Based Learning.”

First, educators who were interviewed for the report suggested that schools should strengthen the role of their educational technology professionals. The need for these professionals continues to grow as more technologies are introduced and used on school campuses, the report states.

Second, educational technology professionals need to work closely with teachers to find the best technology fit for their teaching program.

“Teachers can provide insights into the projects their students are doing and the technologies they need or want to use,” the report states.

Third, professional development needs to happen all year long. This includes explaining the why, not just the how of each project. Other tips include:

  • Be deliberate with your vision for education.
  • Build out over time — but beware of project overload.
  • Consider a point person for outside partnerships.

Collaboration Is Needed Between IT and School Stakeholders

As technology professionals, we know we can’t purchase 10,000 Chromebooks, for example, and then distribute them to teachers without a strategy in place. Serious thought and detailed planning need to go into a technology purchase, and that should always begin with knowing the ins and outs of the school or district’s pedagogy.

However, it is important to understand that, as the vehicle delivering problem-based learning to students, pedagogy driven by innovative IT will take our kids further than pedagogy alone. If your school is embarking on a project- or problem-based learning program, the CoSN report is a great tool for getting started.

It’s in everyone’s best interest — especially the students’ — that curriculum and IT professionals drive learning initiatives together.


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