Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Project-based learning not particularly new

The snail's pace that education uses to transform the learning process with technology never ceases to amaze me. This week an article in the New York Times touts technology-supported "project-based learning" as the new "silver bullet" that will finally revolutionize education. "Project-based learning has been around for decades. The only thing technology really adds to the process is collaborative support through a social networking portal. Once again, the computer's true strength, simulation, is left out of the equation.

The project example given is designed around a letter from the White House bemoaning high oil prices, a faltering economy, and falling popularity polls:

"The new Web education networks can open the door to broader changes. Parents become more engaged because they can monitor their children’s attendance, punctuality, homework and performance, and can get tips for helping them at home. Teachers can share methods, lesson plans and online curriculum materials.

In the classroom, the emphasis can shift to project-based learning, a real break with the textbook-and-lecture model of education. In a high school class, a project might begin with a hypothetical letter from the White House that says oil prices are spiking, the economy is faltering and the president’s poll numbers are falling. The assignment would be to devise a new energy policy in two weeks. The shared Web space for the project, for example, would include the White House letter, the sources the students must consult, their work plan and timetable, assignments for each student, the assessment criteria for their grades and, eventually, the paper the team delivers. Oral presentations would be required."

But where is the program that can take solutions offered by the students and project the historical outcomes - the fertile soil in which many fruitful discussions can take root?

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