Takes on Project-Based Learning

I had almost given up on watching my blog and news feeds on project-based learning. It seems that the definition of project-based learning (PBL) has taken on a new meaning lately … one that isn’t quite in line with the one that I use. The PBL implementation in our program is based on the definition provided by Alistair Morgan in “Theoretical Aspects of Project-Based Learning in Higher Education” …

“project work forms the central and dominant component of their curriculum and conventional didactic teaching is only provided to supplement the requirements of the project topics. The subject material studied is determined by the demands of the project topics, in terms of understanding both theoretical and methodological issues necessary to complete the project.” (my italics)

While I can’t say that we’ve stuck to this definition 100%, it has been our guiding philosophy.

These days most of the feeds on PBL are all about technology in the classroom. Projects seem to be research-oriented where students (usually somewhere in the K-12 demographic) are assigned a topic to work on either independently or in small groups. The internet is their source of information and some form of technology (computer, camera, video, etc.) is available to produce some form of digital presentation or report. Technically these are considered projects, but to me a project means producing a real-world, authentic, and realizable product.

Today though, those feeds included a description of a new engineering program in Minnesota that is all about authentic, project-based learning. Each week students live engineering … spending a few days working in industry on real engineering projects. They will not only acquire the required engineering knowledge, but more importantly they will gain the practical and professional skills necessary to be successful engineers. This, to me, is what true project-based learning is all about.


About N. Nelson

A college professor with more than 30 years of teaching experience, I am constantly exploring how the current educational paradigm can be adapted to better meet the needs of today’s learners, while still reaching the mandate placed on us by the community and employers to prepare these students for life and careers beyond the college. I enjoy sharing my teaching experiences and expertise through Professional Development Workshops on topics such as Project-Based Learning, Flipping your Classroom, Impacting Student Success, Engaging Large Classes, and Stretching your Teaching Comfort Zone. I am also willing to share my experiences and expertise on the processes required to meet the updated CEAB engineering accreditation requirements.
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