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2. PBL Pedagogy
    and Educational Reform

Current literature on educational reform identifies a number of important qualities of improved learning that schools should strive to achieve. Over the past decade, we have visited and observed numerous school and classroom Web sites, and have talked to countless students and teachers who have conducted online projects.  We are struck with the large number of similarities in the experiences of their students to what educational reform literature says they should be experiencing. Research studies are also pointing to the efficacy of networked Project-Based Learning activities.

This section briefly describes some characteristics of improved learning taken from the reform literature, with commentary taken from our observations and conversations with teachers and students regarding their NetPBL experiences.


Improved Learning Strategies & Thinking Skills

Learning To Learn
Effective online projects encourage students to work on a problem in depth, rather than covering many topics superficially. Students also engage in "just-in-time learning..." learning what is needed to solve a problem or complete a project, rather than in a preset curriculum sequence. Both of these strategies are cited in educational reform literature as being important tools to improve learning.

Life-long learning
Web projects build learning experiences connected to the kind of learning one does throughout life, rather than only on "school" subjects. By using the real tools for intellectual work that are used in the workplace, rather than oversimplified textbook techniques, students become familiar with the kinds of knowledge that exist. Finding information and people on the Internet gives students the knowledge of how to go about acquiring the knowledge they may need.

Active Learning
We all learn best by "doing." In a well-designed Web project, students work in a hands-on mode with the physical world. They gather information and data, explore, create, experiment, physically manipulate things, and organize information. They have access to people and information from the real world, and they develop a closer relationship to the real-world context of problems and projects. The connections to real people, events, and problems in the world brings a relevance and connection that is immediate and involves their interest, their intellect, and their participation.

Cooperative Learning
Cooperative learning encourages active engagement by the students in learning, and it also builds critical skills needed in today's workplace. Online projects vastly widen the audience and opportunity for cooperative learning by involving and communicating with a wide cross-section of people around the world. Students work directly with people from other places and cultures, and collaborate not only with peers, but with mentors and experts in a large number of fields.


Contextual Learning

In her article "Public Access to the Internet," Beverly Hunter has written, "Trends in educational reform might be summed up in the one word 'authentic.'" Indeed, when students use the Web  to publish and communicate with people from all walks of life around the world about their work, they are engaged in "authentic" enterprises.

In the best online projects, students regularly communicate and share data and information with their peers and experts in the community. This helps to establish a close relationship between the students and the real-world context of problems and projects. Learning becomes less abstract and becomes more connected to their own lives and experiences. They also learn in an interdisciplinary context, rather than always separating subjects into isolated topics.


High Standards for All Learners

Well-designed online projects foster the development of high standards by building in response and quality-control loops in which feedback from the community... peers, mentors, and experts from all walks of life... hold the student-as-author accountable for accuracy and completeness. Dialogs between author and audience work in much the same way that scholars have always worked to maintain accuracy and accountability in their scholarship. Assessment of peers, teachers, and community are natural and logical steps in the development of every Web project, and tend to hold every student to the highest levels of accountability and quality.

Personalization
Students learn best when their learning and activities relate to things which they can identify with personally, and when they work on projects and problems of intrinsic interest to themselves. When students are involved in the selection and definition of a learning project they assume more ownership of both the process and the outcome. The wealth of people and resources available on the Internet can cater to any appropriate interest students wish to pursue.

Furthermore, since the best online projects involve local and accessible resources, students can readily identify with the tasks required to complete the project.

Individualization
Research clearly demonstrates that different people learn best in different ways (See Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) at Andy Carvin's EdWeb. Students learn best when the materials and testing applications, teaching applications are customized to respond to these individual differences in learning styles and cognitive strengths. Web publishing and communication on the Internet helps to support individualization, with varying options for presentation, feedback, and discourse.


Changing Roles and
Increasing Participation

Students as Teachers
The age of the teacher as the primary fount of knowledge in the classroom is gone. Today, with the universe of experts and information available through the Internet, students can access new and relevant information not yet discovered by their teacher. Internet-using educators are discovering a new mode of learning that we call "Side-by-side learning." It is becoming a more and more common experience to find students assuming both informal and formal roles as teachers... of their peers and younger students, and in many cases of teachers.

Teachers as Coaches
Teachers who involve their students in project-based learning activities
also find their own role logically and naturally changing. Rather than being simple dispensers of knowledge, they discover their primary tasks are to guide and coach and mentor their students. They teach their students how to question, and how to develop hypotheses and strategies for locating information. They become co-learners as their students embark on a variety of learning projects which chart unfamiliar territory. Most teachers who experience this find it a heady and rewarding experience.

When students can share their projects and activities with the "community" through their Web page presentations, they are not the only ones to benefit from the interaction with a larger audience. Teachers, also, find new collegial connections, support, and encouragement from a wide variety of their peers and content experts.

Parent And Community Involvement
With the growth of the World Wide Web, more and more of "the community" can be found online, therefore permitting closer relationships between people inside schools and outside in the "real world". Parents, business leaders, scientists, political and labor leaders, and many other members of the community can play more effective and innovative roles as motivators, role models, sources of information, critics, evaluators, guides, and mentors.

The Internet also creates new paradigms of school-community involvement. As students move from simply consuming to producing and publishing new and original information and knowledge, members of the community seek out and appreciate the information presented on their Web site.


Readings in Educational Reform,
Standards, Improved Learning and PBL

What does research say about outcomes from project-based learning?
http://pblmm.k12.ca.us/PBLGuide/pblresch.htm
Researchers have investigated the impact of project-based learning (PBL) in a wide variety of educational contexts ranging from early childhood education to medical and legal education. PBL (and related instructional approaches) has generally been shown to be effective in increasing student motivation and in improving student problem-solving and higher order thinking skills. (1998)
Developing Educational Standards
http://edstandards.org/Standards.html
A comprehensive collection of educational standards from states, professional organizations, and other sources; compiled by Putnam Valley, NY, School District.
SCANS Report for America 2000
SCANS website: http://www.scans.jhu.edu/NS/HTML/Index.htm
SCANS 2000 Summary Report .PDF
The Secretary of Commerce Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), formed by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education, convened in February 1990 to define the skills students needed to prepare them for the workforce. We believe there is a clear correlation between project-based learning and the SCANS competencies.
Re-thinking Schools Online
http://www.rethinkingschools.org/
Online articles and resources that support the vision that public education is central to the creation of a humane, caring, multiracial democracy.
 
Trends in Educational Reform
http://www.ibiblio.org/edweb/edref.html
An excellent hypertext essay by Andy Carvin outlines recent and historical trends in educational reform and attempts to create a better understanding of the connection between technology and educational change.
  
Technology and Education Reform
http://www.ed.gov/pubs/ EdReformStudies/ EdTech/
Results of a research project conducted by SRI International and sponsored by OERI at the U.S. Department of Education
  
   
The Role of Online Communications in Schools: A National Study
http://www.cast.org/publications/ stsstudy/ index.html
A major study by the Center for Applied Special Technology  demonstrates that students with online access perform better. It offers evidence that using the Internet can help students become independent, critical thinkers, able to find information, organize and evaluate it, and then effectively express their new knowledge and ideas in compelling ways.
   
  
Technology Counts
http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc/
From Education Week, this annual report provides an up-to-date snapshot of the state of technology in U.S. schools.
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