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Best Practices for Virtual Project-Based Learning

As remote teaching and learning launches, teachers may want to consider increasing the project-based learning that they engage their students with in order to build excitement and engagement. Here are some best practices to start or build on your current practices.

1. Alignment with your course.

Consider where you are in the year, your current unit and what you were hoping to still teach. Consider the following questions:

  • What content and skills would most benefit and engage your students? 
  • What skills have you already taught and what are a few new skills that you could introduce? 
  • What critical thinking skills have your students been working on that can be strengthened? 

Narrow down the list into something that feels manageable, and build out learning targets for your project that will guide the learning. It will also help if you choose a focus for the project, but ensure that it connects with what you were already doing to provide context for your students.

2. Develop your task.

At the end of this project, what will students be able to do and understand? How will they demonstrate that thinking? What can be done in a virtual learning environment? Ideally, tasks will also include some component of student collaboration, either through the ideation phase or in product development. Some ideas include:

  • Students can create something at home and submit a picture
  • Written work
  • Use of mixed media (audio files, photographs, multimedia platforms (such as Flipgrid, etc.)

3. Making it relevant.

As you consider the topic of your project, and the task to culminate the learning, consider whether they are relevant and connected to the real world, particularly as many students may feel more isolated during this time. This includes whether it is culturally relevant to all your students, if it promotes equity, if it mirrors in some way the work of professionals, and/or if the task is similar to professional products. 

4. Team collaboration.

Having your team work together to collaboratively design a project that connects all your content areas can build the strength of the project and how students engage with the material. Also, as students see the connections between content areas, they may engage in topics or content they might have disengaged with before. This can also decrease some of the burden for all teachers by sharing the work. 

5. Student choice.

As in any project-based learning, student choice is a key component. Especially in remote learning! Flexibility and choice are key, while still reducing decision anxiety. In a virtual space, student choice can be included in:

  • Components of the task (e.g. how it is done)
  • Who students collaborate with
  • How students collaborate (e.g. what roles they take on in the group project)
  • Focus or topic of project

6. Student Collaboration.

Supporting your students to collaborate, think, ideate and create together will help all your students to learn and expand their thinking. While there are lots of platforms, tools and apps that can be used for all parts of project-based learning, if you are going to add in anything new, prioritize a tool to support collaboration. Norms for online collaboration will be helpful, as this is a new skill and may provide challenges in unexpected ways.

7. Engage experts.

There are a number of online, free resources available that could be used as ‘experts’ to support your students’ knowledge and project development (Ted Talks, university lectures, etc.). Also, consider having an expert do a Zoom or Google meet with your students.

8. Use of fieldwork.

Projects and tasks that encourage students to participate in fieldwork, or the collection of data, observations and/or new findings, will increase engagement. Options for fieldwork include:

  • Data collection that students can participate in, no matter their home setting
  • Provide data sets for students to engage in.
  • Interviews over the phone or social media
  • Links to art galleries, libraries, etc. where students can engage in their own independent research, observations, data collection.

9. Feedback.

While feedback from the teacher is always helpful, it is particularly useful in a remote learning environment. Feedback from the teacher or peers can help build community. Virtual learning also pushes students to be leaders of their own learning in really authentic, and possibly, new ways. Consider how you can engage students in asking you or each other questions, respond to success criteria, and solicit or provide feedback.

10. Pacing guide.

A pacing guide can be provided to your students in your Google classroom. This will allow for students to self-pace and have check-ins or formative assessments along the way. This will allow for students to take a lead role in their learning, but also for teachers to be able to follow up with students who might need more support. This also helps students see the big picture.

11. Time.

Less is more. All work done virtually tends to take longer than you think. This is especially true of projects and asking students to collaborate. Start small and go for depth over breadth as we all learn together in this new learning environment.

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