Dive Brief:

  • Distance learning can impact project-based learning (PBL) assignments that include collaboration, but there are steps educators can take to help ensure success in virtual spaces, curriculum designer Hedreich Nichols writes for Edutopia.
  • To start, teachers should give students time to try online learning spaces, including breakout rooms, so they know how to work with peers virtually and prepare for issues like video lags or dropped connections. Teachers should also post assignments digitally so students can refer back to them periodically on their own, and emphasize that the group is dependent on each student finishing their own piece of an assignment.
  • Regular office hours, where students can get help, are key, as is giving students options on how to present their work so they can choose a final model based on their comfort level with digital spaces and tools.

Dive Insight:

As schools shifted from in-person learning to digital spaces this past spring because of COVID-19, many classrooms adopted project-based learning.

However, PBL tends to require group interaction, something that can be more difficult in socially distanced and remote environments. Yet digital tools including video conferencing with breakout rooms, online applications and shared documents can support students both asynchronously and in real time, allowing them to create and learn together.

Educators have found PBL-based assignments also offer them a chance to give more in-depth feedback on student work, rather than just numerical grades on quizzes and homework assignments. Final assignments, too, can be more expansive and creative, resulting in online journals or even videos that can also be shared digitally with peers.

Because PBL tends to be based more on real-world learning, students have an opportunity to pull from events happening around them — like the impact of the coronavirus — and could feel more engaged. Students can also tap into community projects, which is being encouraged in higher ed, for example, at instiutions like Amherst College. Or they can study their own backyard for a botany assignment or a lesson on insects or animals.

As many schools remain in either a fully remote or hybrid space this fall and winter, the approach can help lessons stay relevant to students while also allowing them to collaborate with peers.

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