PBL Tutorial – Incorporating Online Activities in PBL Plans

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Incorporating the internet into effective Project-Based Learning is deceptively difficult. On the one hand, the internet is a nearly infinite store of information. If you think of a question, the internet more than likely has the answer.

On the other hand, PBL isn’t about having answers, it’s about finding answers. PBL emphasizes the process of experiential, real world inquiry, and that process is often lost in a quick Google search. (In fact, one way to judge the effectiveness of a Driving Question is to ask yourself, “Could I answer this question in a Google search?” If so, then it is not the kind of Driving Question that would sustain six weeks of PBL activities).

Here are some online resources that can be incorporated into effective, engaging PBL activities:

1. Photo-sharing

Art exhibitions are a popular choice for Culminating Events. Consider using online photo-sharing websites, like Flickr, Picasa, or Shutterfly, as a forum for students to share their photography with one another. Additionally, online photo-sharing (as opposed to live exhibitions) gives students the opportunity to present works-in-progress and to document the process of completing a project.

2. Blogging

Journaling is a common PBL activity, because it encourages students to articulate the steps necessary to complete a project. Consider using sites like WordPress (the host of this blog!) and Blogger, so students can read and comment on each other’s journals. Also, blogs are an excellent platform for collaborative writings projects, like a story for which each student writes one chapter, or a collection of songs or poems.

3. Money Management and Investment Games

There are a number of websites that offer free portfolio tracking for stock market investments. For students who are learning about business and investment, consider websites like Google Finance, Yahoo Finance or the CNBC Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge.

4. Making Academic Content Fun

There are literally millions of websites on the internet devoted to any potential project topic, and many of them are fun and interactive. But, for PBL activities that encourage students to create their own content, consider sites like Sporcle, where users can create their own quizzes and compete with their friends, and Survey Monkey, where students can build their own polls and surveys, and compile the data from respondents.

5. Use Social Media to Refine Communication Skills

Many middle and high school students are more internet savvy than their teachers, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter may figure prominently in students’ daily activities but be totally unfamiliar to the adults in their lives. Incorporating social media into PBL planning speaks to students’ interests, while giving teachers an opportunity to learn more about this world. Additionally, despite popular claims that texting and Tweeting are inferior forms of written communication, online messaging provides an excellent opportunity for students to practice crafting succinct, effective written messages. After all, if you can say it well in only 140 characters, surely you can say it in three pages.

Ultimately, these suggestions are nothing more than a good starting point to inform projects. Great PBL planning will be multidisciplinary, and engage students in a number of forums. But if, by incorporating internet activities, students can continue to practice writing and build critical workplace computer skills, than this is one element that is not to be missed!

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