August 29, 2017
You open the syllabus on the first day and groan. Most of the class time is consumed by colossal lectures. There are no assignments – just test, midterm, test, final.
In a lecture-based class, when the time comes to prove what you know on the midterm, it is just a matter of how well you recall the specified terms, dates, names, definitions and other trivia.
Without ways to apply what you learn in class, information is abstract and hard to follow. Knowing that something is true on a multiple-choice exam is not as impactful as proving it in a project-based setting.
The problem with lecture-based classes is that students are not expected to use their knowledge; they are expected to recite it. Once students take the final exam, they might have a hard time remembering what they learned during the first week of classes.
This limits the student’s interaction with the material and prevents them from improving themselves.
Project-based learning, or PBL, remedies this. Assignments take the place of tests, and prompts take the place of questions.
According to the National Education Association, PBL shifts away from “teacher-centered instruction and emphasizes student-centered projects.”
PBL encourages creativity; students are not restricted to responding with a single term or definition. They write papers, construct presentations and conduct experiments. What they do with the prompt is, more or less, up to them.
In lecture-based classes, students are encouraged to simulate their knowledge by answering a list of hypothetical questions instead of producing tangible work. They tune into lectures for the test answers, not comprehension.
Students can, of course, learn plenty of information from lectures, but there is no contemplation involved in knowing that a fact is a fact or that “A” is the answer to number seven.
But PBL has proven to be more effective for students than lecture-based learning.
According to Scholastic, there is an increasing trend toward schools built around the PBL model. New Technology High School, which began in 1996, is one of these schools. In the two decades since its start, New Technology has opened 40 schools across the nation
Even though New Technology isn’t considered to be higher education like UCCS, PBL can still be effective on college campuses.
PBL puts the learner back in control of the learning. The information that the student learns is more personal. Whatever direction the student steers the research, the class material is the project’s foundation, so they rely on it and make use of it.
Projects and assignments also expose students to perspectives other than just the professor’s. Whereas test-based classes require excessive studying of the class slideshows and textbooks, projects require further research, an array of academic sources to back up a unique idea.
Proving that you’re right through a project or paper is much more rewarding than just assuming you are through a series of exams. With this change, your learning is given drive.
You are expected to form a perspective on this information and make a claim about it. You are not answering the same standard questions that everyone in class is assigned.
You answer your own question, altogether. There is a prompt, but the thesis is yours.
You feel compelled to learn more about the subject because your perspective, voice and credibility are subject to critique. You want your work to have substance.
Turning in a paper is like turning in your commentary on the subject. You have ownership over your learning now, as it is represented by your own creation.
You want it to grab people. You want it to have vision.
The key is this: you want it.