Challenges to Global PBL

I read two different articles this week about PBL; one with tremendous suggestions about embarking upon a global PBL project and some ideas that might minimize some of the cultural barriers and risks of offending people from another culture, and the other which presented two contrasting perspectives about PBL. Both present some of the challenges when implementing PBL. Here are the links: “A Teacher’s Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet: Tips for Online Collaboration” on ED.gov and “Point/Counterpoint: Is Project-based Learning Practical?” in Leading and Learning with Technology, August 2007. But before, I elaborate about some of the challenges facing global PBL, I want to show the video from TeacherTube, called What to expect in class?. What a great accounting of a teacher’s experience using PBL in the classroom and the students extremely positive feedback! So before we look at the challenges, let’s see the successes first.

I’m not sure of your reaction, but I was fascinated by the successes of this ordinary teacher touching the lives of students with an approach that some teachers find too difficult to try, because it’s too complicated to manage the students. No one is suggesting PBL is a one stop shop that fits all learning styles. Nor are the experts suggesting that this type of learning is only aptly suited for exceptional, or gifted students either. However, the evidence clearly shows that most students, when engaged in the learning process with hands-on practical activities, the results are noticeably higher than traditional teaching strategies with the teacher standing in the front of the classroom lecturing to rows of students.

Kevin Scott states that PBL “takes more time, energy, and resources for too little payoff.” He further adds that students need basic comprehension of basic skills in order to be successful in PBL. PBL, in general, is more time consuming to plan and organize, but the payoff is truly worth the effort. But the key challenge is planning. To achieve the positive results, a teacher must be very organized. It is not a matter of slapping a project together on the fly and hoping for good results. Sometimes it is this effort required that turns some teacher off from attempting to try PBL. Sad really! I agree with Kevin Scott’s second point that students do need basic comprehension of basic skills, and too often teachers try too much at once in PBL and the students become overwhelmed because too much is thrown at them. The challenge is to take students through the process of implementing tools and resources gradually throughout the project, or “scaffolding” as Nancy Carswell loves to remind me. This week, I saw first hand in a presentation by Thomas Cooper, how he implements PBL with the use of Wikispaces, Google Earth, Gliffy, and StoryBoarding to teach his Expedition Lit Trips: Outdoor Culture and Technology. He outlined how he successfully takes students through the steps of understanding and using the tools while reading and journaling the books they are reading. Amazing story!

A teacher can minimize the challenges of PBL simply by planning, and methodically taking students through the process so they understand how to use the resources available to successfully complete the project. Now add the wonderful dynamic of engaging your students with students from around the world on global projects. Global projects are a wonderful tool to encourage students to learn about other cultures, customs, language, geography, and religious beliefs. All these elements pose challenges to students, especially at the risk of offending the guest classroom from the other side of the globe. This is where teachers need to do their research beforehand and inform their students about the cultural differences or whatever else is different. It is really important for students to respect those differences as well, and not judge another culture for doing things that may conflict with their own way of thinking or believing. This is great opportunity to learn the value of tolerance and diversity.

On the technological front, it is also important to note that many of these other countries have limited access to technological resources. Many of the methods of delivery we take for granted cannot be used because they simply do not have the bandwidth or quality of service from an Internet Service Provider. So tools for communicating effectively need to be considered as well. There are resources such as ePals, or Taking it Globally that are very good for connecting classrooms. In addition, LearnCentral is great site for providing access to ElluminateLive for global projects so that classrooms can collaborate and share ideas via the webinar tool.

All in all, global PBL is a chance to turn a challenge into an opportunity. It just may require a little effort and creativity to make it work. But I believe the effort is worth it in the end.

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