Project-based learning

The first time I heard of project-based learning, or rather, pédagogie de projet, was at a teachers’ training workshop at the University of Montréal in 2009. What an eye-opening workshop that was! A teacher by the name of Nicole Lavergne introduced us to this approach of learning that seemed, at that time, to have taken the world of teaching and research by storm.

Project-based learning (or PBL) is based on John Dewey’s learning by doing approach to learning (click on the link to read about it). It is a type of instruction, where students work together (often in groups) with the sole aim of carrying out a particular project. The project will often be situated in a real-world context, and will require students to practically apply whatever is learnt in theory. Used mostly for teaching physical sciences, this approach is also very interesting from a language teacher’s point of view. One can for instance teach all the possible grammatical notions with its nuances in a language class, but push the student in a real-world context where he/she is to use the language, and you’ll see just how far the grammar holds out!

If, on the other hand, students have to collectively participate in, and carry out a project that has a specific aim, they will use the language taught and be able to learn in a constructive manner. Moreover, this will encourage students to learn from each other, at their own rhythm. This will also teach them to organise their work, set their own objectives, take decisions, face problems collectively and learn to solve them.

With various Web 2.0 tools at our disposal today, here are a few ideas for creating your own virtual projects. Suggestions for websites that can used have been put in brackets.

What is web 2.0?

Nanni_no bckrdEveryone seems to be using the term Web 2.0 these days without really understanding what it means.

Web 2.0 was a name suggested in 2003 during a conference brainstorming session by Dale Dougherty, a member of O’Reilly Media and since then, the name seems to have caught on and is often used synonymously with the word ‘Internet’. Tim O’Reilly has himself, on several occasions, tried to warn users from ‘defining’ the term, suggesting instead that each user feel free to appropriate the term as he/she so wishes.

So, how exactly can we understand Web 2.0? We can do so by studying its characteristics, one of which is the ability for any human being, irrespective of having received prior education in technological know-how, to create material on the web. In the early 90’s, creating something on the Internet was considered to be the privilege that solely programmers or web developers had. Today, just about any man or woman (sometimes, child) can generate content: writing down your thoughts, commenting, leaving a remark on a website, starting an online fan club, creating a wiki, etc are all representative examples. So, as it turns out, the web has become a gigantic pool of resources, which although not intentionally created for education, can be used for the purposes of education.

As a language teacher and trainer, I understand that it may be difficult for teachers to choose from among the plethora of available resources. How does one choose? How does one decide? These are  questions not easy to answer. And while we’re at it, lets not forget the golden rule of teaching: whether conventional or digital, tools are just as good as the teachers who use them.

Creative pedagogy, class management, the very presence of a teacher are irreplaceable and fundamental to great teaching. Digital tools merely add to these, making the classroom a fun place for teachers and students to be in.