Aug 06 2020

How to Facilitate Project-Based Learning Online

Integrating PBL into remote learning can help students stay connected and engaged.

When schools went remote last spring, educators had to get creative to continue instruction without sacrificing student engagement. Many embraced project-based learning, an instructional model that takes a learning-by-doing approach, and found ways to integrate it into online instruction.

Research shows that PBL can help students build 21st-century skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. It also gives students agency in their learning and lends itself to a more authentic assessment of their skills and capabilities. Plus, PBL allows students to learn about and reflect on real-world problems through well-designed projects and self-evaluation.

Yet shifting PBL to an online or hybrid learning environment requires careful and intentional planning. “PBL can’t effectively be reduced to a scripted process of reading text, watching videos, completing virtual worksheets and taking multiple-choice quizzes,” writes Ben Owens, a national faculty member for nonprofit organization PBLWorks, in a blog post. “The same level of inquiry, questioning, critique, reflection, scaffolding and collaboration will still be there, albeit in a remote learning setting.”

To successfully use PBL in an online or hybrid classroom, consider these four tips:

1. Be Mindful of the Devices Students Are Using

Teachers may design projects fit for a laptop or computer with a larger screen. However, some students without those devices may not experience them in the same way, which could impede student engagement, explains Rich Dixon, PBLWorks’ director of online learning, in a webinar.

“The technology that’s in the hands of students can vary greatly,” Dixon says. “For many of our students, that may include mobile phones with a much smaller screen.”

DISCOVER: See the bigger picture of digital equity.

2. Use Videoconferencing Platforms for Meaningful Collaboration

Teamwork and collaboration are essential to PBL. In a traditional PBL classroom, students congregate in small groups and work together to solve specific problems, which involves asking each other questions, brainstorming strategies and finding resources.

Videoconferencing platforms with built-in collaboration features such as Microsoft Teams and Google Meet can help teachers replicate those experiences online. For instance, Microsoft Teams has a digital whiteboard that students can use to create concept maps or sketch out ideas from a laptop, computer or mobile device. Google also is bringing the Jamboard interactive whiteboard directly into Meet. Additionally, both Teams and Meet have screensharing capabilities that make it easier for students to work on files together, in real time, in Office 365 or G Suite for Education.

READ MORE: Find out how to secure your videoconferencing platform.

3. Make Group Work Effective with Project Management Tools

Using project management tools such as Project PalsHeadrush and Student Corner can also help teachers drive student engagement, Dixon explains. They allow teachers to manage student groups and monitor what they’re working on, as well as improve communication with them.

Additionally, with a project management tool, students can have all of their project resources in one place. “It can be so easy for students to get lost if you’re referring to four or five different tabs,” Dixon says. “It can be overwhelming, and students’ ability to concentrate may wane, so being able to have it all anchored in one spot within a tool is really important.”

4. Provide Ongoing Feedback and Promote Reflection

Learning management systems such as Google Classroom, Canvas and Schoology allow teachers to conduct formative and summative assessments during PBL. Using Google Slides and Adobe Spark to share work or showcase final projects also encourages students to give each other constructive feedback. Many educators also use Microsoft’s Flipgrid, a video-based social learning platform, to engage students in weekly reflections. With a simple video recording, students can share their wins and challenges, ask classmates questions or discuss next steps as they progress through their projects.

Using PBL in remote learning lets teachers build a meaningful curriculum while giving students the opportunity to collaborate and connect with each other — even if they’re not face to face.

FG Trade/Getty Images; Logo by Amira Martin