The ultimate goal in education, pragmatically speaking, is to help kids prepare for the working world. This goal is a little more at the forefront of the educator's mind in higher education than, say, in primary and secondary education, but being that those two stages of education are essentially intended to prepare the student for college, one can extrapolate that they serve essentially the same function. This, more than anything else, is the reason that project-based learning is taking off. The replication of real-world work processes is essential in helping students learn to collaborate and function in the real world.
So how does it work?
The Working World Meets the World of Education
Outside of school, tasks are never so neatly organized as they are in class. There's no syllabus to guide you, no teacher to inform you which skill you should be using, and why. You're left to find your own way from point A to point B, using both the skills you already possess, as well as the skills you pick up along the way.
Project-based learning is the institution of this philosophy into a classroom environment. Assignments resemble something closer to a proposal than homework or classwork, and often times the students are left to their own devices as to how they gather information, much like a flipped classroom. In fact, flipped classrooms often use project-based learning as a means to drive the students study.
Project-based learning can also take a few forms, from "dry-fire" exercises where the only thing on the line is a grade, all the way up to real world activities, where the results are actually used by the class or by an outside "client". This is to build a real world sense of what it takes to not only complete a project such as these, but how to collaborate with a team in order to complete a given task.
Collaboration may be one of the most important skills learned during a project-based learning exercise. Learning collaboration in the classroom means learning collaboration elsewhere in the world, where working together might not always be easy, but will always be important. Each student gives to the project, according to their ability, and at the end, the results are compiled and shared with the rest of the class.
How Does Project-Based Learning Work?
As mentioned before, a project-based learning assignment resembles less an assignment, and more a task that one might receive at their job, which might range from "compile a report on the soil quality in the local area" to "design and implement a marketing campaign intended to draw attention to the dangers of bullying in elementary schools". Supplemental material might sometimes be provided, such as similar projects other students completed, or real-world analogues.
While instructor input is usually minimal, most project-based learning endeavors are engineered to coincide with traditional instruction from the teacher. For example, a unit on soil health might coincide with a project regarding cataloging various environmental concerns in a surrounding area. In this way, the lessons taught in class, via traditional means, are incorporated immediately into ongoing projects, which helps students institute the knowledge they're being taught immediately.
Additional resources are also usually made available to project-based learning endeavors, once again similar to - and therefore very effective in conjunction with - the flipped classroom models. Students are able to access these resources on their own time and at their own discretion, giving them the power to navigate the learning on their own terms. As flipped classrooms and project-based learning are proving, this method of learning is more effective for most students.
Real World Lessons in the Classroom
Perhaps the most effective lesson that project-based learning is able to teach is how to work with other people. Collaboration in the classroom is a hard concept to just lecture about; one can warn students again and again that they'll have to deal with group-based projects in the real world, but it's hard to communicate the required skills in a lecture or handout. The best way to teach students to collaborate effectively is to have them collaborate. Often to the chagrin of students, group projects are becoming the standard in most higher education classrooms, especially above the freshman and sophmore levels. Once a student hits their third year, most degree programs will require intensive work with other students in order to complete a shared grade.
This rough transition can be eased in a variety of ways, but the best way is with some outside help from both hardware and software. Technology in the classroom can go a long way towards helping any group learn to work together (as any student in the post-Google Drive era can tell you), and it comes in many forms. Collaboration software such as Google Drive or Microsoft's One Drive allow students to actively work together on documents in real time, and with the advent of the mobile era has come a variety of other ways to talk and work with colleagues, such as WhatsApp or even Facebook's Messenger app.
That takes care of collaboration once class ends, but what options are there for when class is in session?
The SCALE-UP model has a lot of object lessons for bringing collaboration to the classroom. Classrooms are built around collaboration, with smaller tables that incorporate student technology, usually with some form of display that allows students to show others their work on their own laptops, tablets, or cell phones. In SCALE-UP classrooms, most assignments are project-based, so having a way to work together in real-time across devices is very important. It should be mentioned that the changing needs of students should be recognized when using collaborative technology: not every student works from a laptop anymore. There was a short period of time when all the best schools required a laptop, but mobile technology has advanced to a point where the same caliber of work can be completed, no matter the portable device. Smart phones and tablets can have keyboards attached via Bluetooth, and programs like Microsoft Word and Excel all have mobile app counterparts.
That means that with the display, though, there needs to be some sort of hardware capable of working between the devices of students and the display itself. It used to be that connections like these were only possibly via wired inputs, but times have (once again) advanced to the point where this is no longer necessary. Collaboration in the classroom is now possible wirelessly, usually via some hardware source, such as a wePresent.
wePresent, and other hardware solutions like it, allow collaboration between one or more devices. Devices mirror to the screen, and from the screen, the students in a work group can colaborate by annotating media, controlling the linked device directly, or displaying several devices at once in order to make comparisons between the data displayed. This allows a smoother, more centralized communication within the classroom. Individual contributors can even stream their devices to other screens in the classroom, allowing for cross-group collaboration, or a more traditional learning experience from the teacher.
Collaboration Makes the Difference Between a Good Project and a Bad Project...
...and that's why your project-based classroom needs a collaboration solution like wePresent. We've just debuted an education-focused model, the WiPG-1600, which works in conjunction with collaborative technology like SMART boards and touch displays, bringing the best parts of our flagship collaboration hardware to the education market with a lower price point. If you'd like to see the newest member of the wePresent family (or any member, for that matter) in action, feel free to get in touch with our sales team to see a presentation.