Monday, February 13, 2012

What Should Global PBL Look Like?


Your classroom is going global? That’s great! But before you pack your bags, you might want to ask what, exactly, should a global learning experience be like for today’s students?

Twenty years ago, you were on your own as a teacher interested in global education. There were only a few others who shared your interests. Today, you’re in good company, both with regard to colleagues (there are thousands around the world) and support (there are dozens of organizations and networked platforms available). You no longer have to pioneer global education opportunities for your students, and that means you don’t have to do ALL the work up front. Students today can and should be empowered to pioneer their own global learning opportunities—ones that we, as teachers, may have yet to imagine.

Another thing about how it was twenty years ago – global education was mainly about bringing the world into your classroom. You might have invited a guest speaker from another country, shown videos about other cultures, or maybe established a pen-pals relationship with another school across the globe. And all too often, global education meant doing what the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) calls a “dessert” project: an activity you offered students after you covered the content first. Today, Global PBL can be a much richer and rigorous “main course.”

I’d like to make three key points about Global PBL for the 21st century. First, it should be a collaborative effort. In progressive education today, collaboration (among other “21st Century Skills”) is an end, but it’s also a means to a world more able to address its challenges. As educators or students, we can collaborate using a variety of digital platforms to link our neighborhoods, or other neighborhoods around the world. Your students will learn a great deal more than you might have already charted on your curriculum map if you let them work with others around the world to drive that collaboration into “undiscovered country.”

Second point: we have to design global learning experiences that afford students the Voice and Choice necessary to actually collaborate with others, rather than simply follow our pre-determined lessons. If you want your students to remain motivated and engaged with a project, they have to be able to shape its outcomes. For example, a project focused on the issue of water resources might lead your students, in partnership with students across the world, to exchange research data and best-practices from culturally specific responses to those issues. Making choices informed by others’ voices allows students create to final products, whether presentations or action plans, that bring new ideas to the table in their own communities. This kind of cross-global collaboration means we have to be ready to support our students as they encounter some of the more challenging aspects of this process. Negotiation, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication: these are the essential skills we need to think about to support Global PBL. But competency in various content areas is also very important to success. So think creatively about your content standards, too, as a means to the end of helping students make their world a better place via Global PBL.

Third, Global PBL at its heart is a realization that we must engage with people from other places and cultures in In-Depth Inquiry and come to terms with how we’ll respond to their answers to our questions. We and our students will need to determine how we can use the new terms of agreement that result in order to work together toward common goals. In addition, this means that Global PBL is about allowing our students to take risks on a global stage, and allowing them to fail so they can learn from their mistakes. A Global PBL experience allows students not only to grow from your wisdom, but that of other teachers and colleagues around the world. Let them soak it up!

Global PBL means treating your students like actual “Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” for your school and community. Those are powerful terms traditionally reserved only for a select few credentialed diplomats, but the competencies and qualities these people possess are in demand now more than ever, here at home and abroad. A world full of graduates empowered in this way is certainly going to be a better place. Indeed, if you emphasize Collaboration, Voice and Choice, and In-Depth Inquiry, you’ll find that you won’t be alone when you go global because your best global learning partners just may be the ones you’re “teaching.” So, don’t just bring the world into your classroom. Open your classroom as a home base for your students and encourage them to learn about a far wider world than you, or they, could possibly imagine. If you’d like to imagine more, join us for a workshop on Global Project Based Learning at BIE’s PBL World conference June 18-22nd in Napa, CA – find more information at

Learn more about this topic in BIE’s “Webinar Wednesday” on Global PBL, which may be found at

BIE National Faculty

1 comment:

  1. Going global is another interesting consideration for our social studies department to consider as our district transitions to the Common Core of Learning and a new high school. We currently offer a World Humanities approach to grade 9 students and a one semester course in World Issues to grade 10 students.