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RE: [xmca] Project Based Learning

Thanks Andy,

I had quite a few issues with the Kirschner paper when I read it a few years ago and made a response to it as one of our 'in-house' mini conferences - the presentation is attached here for those who are interested. The focus is more on problem-based rather than project-based learning - and I see the two as quite distinct entities. The response I made was based on my experience with PBL in the Sydney Medical Program. I am now working in a different institution, with undergrads rather than post-grads - and using PBL has been a struggle and a challenge with the students after they have had two years of didactic lectures and then come into final year which is are resistant to!


Sarah Hyde
Lecturer in Problem Based Learning
Chair, Learning and Teaching Committee
School of Biomedical Sciences
Charles Sturt University
PO Box 883

Working Monday, Tuesday and Friday only
Phone: +61 2 6365 7633
Fax: +61 2 6365 7875
Email: shyde@csu.edu.au


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Friday, 4 September 2009 12:01 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning

xmca-ers, I sent the same message about project based 
learning to a friend here in Melbourne who gave me such a 
comprehensive answer, I thought I should share it:
Dear Andy,

Project-based learning (PBL) is what you are, of course, 
referring to. With an array of pedagogical origins extending 
back many centuries (well, further, of course, in a 
philosophical sense) and passing through numerous iterations 
(including Dewey and the school of American pragmatism), the 
espoused theory of PBL has been less nuanced than its richer 
practice which invariably blends with other (even 
oppositional) teaching strategies and methods.

*A critique of PBL and other minimal guidance approaches*

Minimal guidance techniques whereby learners discover or 
'construct' essential information (including project-based 
learning, discovery learning, problem-based learning, 
inquiry learning, experiential learning and constructivist 
learning) can constitute an inefficient and ineffectual way 
to teach and learn. After at least 50 years of advocacy 
associated with instruction using minimal guidance, there is 
still no solid body of research supporting such techniques. 
Not only is unguided instruction normally less effective, 
there is also evidence that it may have negative results 
when students acquire misconceptions or incomplete or 
disorganised knowledge.

Cognitive load theory (Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller, and 
Richard E. Clark in their above critique of minimal 
guidance) suggests that the free exploration of a complex 
environment may generate a heavy working memory load that is 
detrimental to students' more strategic and sharply focused 
learning. As learning, by definition, means a change in 
long-term memory, the problem with minimal guidance is that 
the load on working memory makes it difficult for long-term 

Students' working memory is thus burdened by requiring them 
to sort through irrelevant information while locating 
information that is relevant (a problem compounded, of 
course, by the Net and superficial fact-gathering). And 
working memory cannot be used efficiently to commit relevant 
information to long-term memory if assessing the relevance 
of material. Indeed, it is possible to search or work on 
projects for extended periods of time with quite minimal 
alterations to long-term memory.

*A criticism of this critique - steps toward a synthesis*

The main criticism is that critiques of PBL, etc. *do not 
adequately bring to the fore the need to move beyond the old 
antithetical either-or* *of teacher-centred didactic 
instruction _versus_ student-centred learning*. There is 
obviously always the danger of glorifying one end of the 
educational spectrum and casting the other end into total 
darkness. As suggested by terms such as 'guided discovery', 
elements of both instructional guidance and inquiry-based 
learning are not mutually exclusive.

This blend of the best elements of what are often presented 
as clear-cut alternatives is, of course, consistent with the 
work of educators who seek to progress a 21st century 
teaching and learning practice, founded on a more intimate, 
complex, dialectical interplay of *both* students' 
independent inquiry, problem-solving and practical project 
work *and* increased depth of students' knowledge and 
understanding of concepts, facts, laws, principles and 
theories, as imparted by teachers.

Long developed by many teachers in practice (even if their 
espoused, 'pure' theories contradict this), this dialectical 
interplay is obviously at the basis of techniques such as 
scaffolding, cognitive apprenticeships and Vygotsky's zone 
of proximal development. Important, of course, to teaching 
in the ZPD (as "the distance between the actual 
developmental level, as determined by independent problem 
solving, and the level of potential development as 
determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or 
in collaboration with more capable peers") is the precise 
determination of what the student can really manage and 
develop on his or her own. But this, in turn, obviously 
depends on the guided instruction of a teacher or a more 
knowledgeable peer or new, data-rich kinds of 
technology-assisted collaborative learning.

*Beyond the old dualisms in education*

This educational practice is obviously quite distinct from 
the two hitherto dominant and contrasting paradigms of 
overly-didactic instruction _versus_ constructivist 
inquiry-based learning. It is thus not inquiry-based 
learning or PBL _per se_ (all of which contain useful 
insights into how best to engage and motivate many students) 
but rather the persistence of false dichotomies in education 
that is the problem to be resolved, notwithstanding the many 
instances of creative synthesis.

Educational theory and practice has, of course, long been 
bedeviled by false dualisms. (*This is _partly_ an Anglo 
problem, of course - but this cultural and linguistic 
question is another issue altogether*). Anyway, these 
dualisms are also out of sync with most students who would 
benefit greatly from an education system and from schools 
that did not pose practical activities, projects and meaning 
against abstract and theoretical studies but instead more 
systematically and creatively combined new forms of 
practical project work and independent inquiry and even 
greater depth of scientific and philosophical knowledge and 

Hope that this is of use!

-Nic (nicholas.abbey@optusnet.com.au)
0402 152 634

*As for the technique of PBL, have a look at:*

.         Mitchell, S., Foulger, T. S., & Wetzel, K., 
Rathkey, C. (February, 2009). The negotiated project 
approach: Project-based learning without leaving the 
standards behind. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(4), 
339-346. Available at 

.         Boss, S., & Krauss, J. (2007). _Reinventing 
project-based learning: Your field guide to real-world 
projects in the digital age._ Eugene, OR: International 
Society for Technology in Education.

.         And from 
one or more of the following may be of interest:
* *
*Resources and research*

*Autodesk Foundation 
In a comprehensive synthesis, John W. Thomas, Ph.D., 
examines the research base for project-based learning.
*Buck Institute for Education *http://www.bie.org  Buck 
Institute offers training and a handbook to guide middle 
school and high school teachers in incorporating 
project-based learning into the curriculum. The Web site 
also includes resources and research on PBL effectiveness.
*George Lucas Educational Foundation *www.edutopia.org* GLEF 
provides a summary of project-based learning research, along 
with a gallery of project examples (in print and video 
*The Multimedia Project: Project-Based Learning with 
Multimedia *http://pblmm.k12.ca.us/PBLGuide/MMrubric.htm* 
Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project, federally funded project 
which ran from 1996-2001, is described in detail and 
explained in the larger context of a systemic school reform 
initiative in Silicon Valley. Site includes array of 
resources, including implementation strategies, 
award-winning project examples, and evaluation published by 
*National Foundation for the Improvement of Education 
*http://www.nfie.org/publications/ctb5.pdf* Connecting the 
Bits (2000) includes a chapter on "Project-Based Learning 
and Information Technologies."
*The Project Approach *http://www.project-approach.com* 
Maintained by Sylvia Chard, professor at University of 
Alberta and co-author of Engaging Children's Minds: The 
Project Approach (2000).
* *
*References *

_Project-based learning research_. Edutopia. 
www.edutopia.org* Intel® Teach to the Future. (2003).
_Project-based classroom: Bridging the gap between education 
and technology_. Training materials for regional and master 
trainers. Author. Jarrett, D. (1997).
_Inquiry strategies for science and mathematics learning_. 
Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. 
_Project-based instruction: Creating excitement for 
learning_. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational 
Laboratory. http://www.nwrel.org/request/2002aug/index.html* 
SRI International. (2000, January). _Silicon valley 
challenge 2000: Year 4 Report_. San Jose, CA: Joint Venture, 
Silicon Valley Network. 
http://pblmm.k12.ca.us/sri/Reports.htm* Thomas, J.W. (1998).
_Project-based learning: Overview_. Novato, CA: Buck 
Institute for Education. Thomas, J.W. (2000). _A review of 
research on project-based learning_. San Rafael, CA: 
Autodesk. http://www.k12reform.org/foundation/pbl/research*

Michael Glassman wrote:
> Maybe it would be important to define Project Based Learning.  I assumed that Andy was talking about the type of learning for instance promoted by Reggio Emilia (for younger children) and Perhaps the (early at least) Dewey school at the University of Chicago (which seemed to have influenced Reggio Emilia).  In this form of Project Based Learning it is the students who initiate the project, based on their everyday experiences (this is where Reggio Emilia brings Vygotsky in a little bit I think).  Whether the project continues is based on the continuing interests of the students, with the teacher serving as a facilitator.  For older students the projects usually have a connection (but are not determined) by needs in their world and the community.  For younger students the interest is more hedonistic.  One early childhood project I wrote about was in an infant and toddlers class, based on construction, and it went on for months is a very fascinating manner.
> Is this what you meant Andy?
> Michael
> ________________________________
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org
> Sent: Thu 9/3/2009 11:51 AM
> To: ablunden@mira.net; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning
> Hey Andy:
> I have been in schools that utilize this and have seen mixed results. When
> a very powerful PTA assists in the organization of a project and parents
> spend their time tying up loose ends I have seen $25,000 playgrounds
> built!  Students were incorporated into the project in various ways and
> then they earned school credits based on portfolios that documented both
> their participation as well as the progress of the project.  I have also
> seen gardens become overgrown and left untended.
> Here is a great website that provides insight into a specific project
> based learning initiative:
> http://www.urbanboatbuilders.org/
> A very worthwhile endeavor for helping to build social skills, teamwork
> and a sense of craftmanship.
> Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
> 09/03/2009 10:26 AM
> Please respond to ablunden; Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture,
> Activity"
>         To:     "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>         cc:
>         Subject:        [xmca] Project Based Learning
> Can anyone give me an opinion on the value of Project-Based
> Learning. Does it work (in other than privielegd schools)?
> What are the main criticism?
> Andy
> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media)
> http://www.erythrospress.com/
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Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media) 
Orders: http://www.erythrospress.com/store/main.html#books

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