Monday, October 18, 2010

How do you feel about technology in PBL?


The upcoming presentation at Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) will be the last hurrah for this technology and PBL paper. I've chopped it down to the bare essentials and I hope you will take a look this paper and tell me what you think. After this it's to the presses or to the junk pile, so you can make a difference by letting me know!

For almost two decades people have been studying how the Internet and new technologies can help teaching and learning. Since landing at BIE I've been able to focus on project based learning with occasional forays into technology, such as working on, advising friends at Project Foundry or helping evaluate the Envision Schools Project Exchange. Now that Alfred has joined us, BIE is exploring even more technology ideas, including this blog....thanks, Alfred!

Today I'm not interested in any particular technology use, but
overall patterns of teacher technology use and PBL. There is something about teachers who use the Internet that results in them being more successful in implementing this kind of teaching.
I'm not sure if it's the Internet use, though, or something about the teachers.

Findings from Riel & Becker (2008), suggest it is "teacher leaders" within the professional who are most likely to use the Internet and to teach in constructivist ways like PBL. So technology may help with PBL, but it probably will not impact teachers who are not involved in developing innovative practices.

Think about this blog. Only certain, self-selected people will read this. If you are here, you are interested, and resourceful! For many others, this blog, and the topics of PBL and technology reform are not even on the radar.

So the question becomes, "With more and more people using the Internet these days, and more Internet access in schools and homes, should we expect continued growth in PBL use?"

I know, I know. New technologies are not a solution in themselves. There are a lot of other changes going on in recruitment of teachers, structuring the classroom and curriculum, and creating collaborative, sustaining cultures in small schools and reform models.

Other findings from our national survey show other issues related to successful PBL implementation. But, what the current paper suggests is that technology seems to playing a facilitating role, at least more often than not.


How are you using technology to support PBL or how are you using PBL to integrate new technologies?  What has been your experience?  I'd be really interested in any thoughts.

Maybe it doesn't matter which came first -- just don't drop the egg!

Jason Ravitz
Director of Research


  1. Hi Jason:

    This is great stuff; it hits squarely on what has been the focus of my leadership for the past year, so my apologies if I write at too great a length here.

    In my leadership, the sequence has been like this: first, build out our learning goals by expanding the report card to include measuring and reporting on a broad set of critical 21st century skills. Second, share and spread the idea that PBL is a the best way for students to develop and demonstrate their learning of these 21st century skills, (and use PBL like methods to measure their growth, as in the CWRA). Third, explain that technology and laptops are the best way for students to do PBL in this day and age.

    This trinity, as it were, is very tightly intertwined: 21st c. skills/PBL/tech., and it is not easy for me to unwind them.

    I have been enormously influenced by the work of New Tech Network and High Tech High schools, which both, perversely, actually put primacy, in my observation, on PBL first, tech second, but importantly. I am also very influenced by the work of Howard Levin, who is at Urban School in SF and has written and presented widely on his very principled position that tech must serve clear learning goals, and that tech is an incredibly powerful way for students to "learn by doing" in this day and age.

    But I do think that putting tech in place will influence teaching toward PBL. In all but the most rigid school cultures, teachers and students both, if they have tech in hand, as the web 2.0 revolution continues to explore, can't help but realize these are more than typewriters, and that it is a shame not to use them to do stuff. This is the "where's the mouse?" generation (a shout-out to Shirky's magnificent Cognitive Surplus). If tech is in the house, teachers who continue the same-old same-old lecture and drill will lose students' attention swiftly, and will have to react.

    Like Shirky, I can be too optimistic, I know. But I really do believe that tech in the classroom will motivate and empower teachers and students alike to get going on a greater PBL dynamic. But that said, the better way to go is to clarify learning outcomes, and backward design your way to PBL, and then to the power of tech to support 21st c. PBL.

    A shout-out also to Suzie Boss, whose book on this topic has been so valuable.

    Keep up the great work, Jason. Sorry for this length.

  2. Hi Jason - I started blogging too!

    On similar issues i.e.,

    Inquiry-Based Teaching of Mathematics and Science.

    * technology is definitely integrated into the topic of inquiry.

    I am trying to write more - and have my inservice and preservice teachers participate. Here is hoping!

    I will be following your blog for sure - hope there is a forward to email!

  3. Here is the information about the AECT session in Anaheim.

    Assessing the impact of online technologies on PBL use in US
    high schools

    Thursday, October 28, 10:30 am - 11:30 am
    Hyatt Regency Orange County - Anaheim, CA
    North Tower - 2nd Floor / Salon VII