Instructional Media or “What’s an Overhead?”

Murray’s Corollary to Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology – Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

September 24th, 2009 · No Comments

“It doesn’t just make learning relevant; it makes teaching relevant as well,” says Susan Thompson in the ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology Journal, writing about Global Project Based Learning (GPBL). The counterpoint, by Kevin Scott, is the argument that GPBL is not a panacea for motivating all students, is so challenging to implement that it fails struggling students and does not always help them achieve mandated standards. If it’s so great, and the risks large, and the technology frequently prone to failure, it begs the question- why do teachers do Project Based Learning, let alone with a global focus?! Murray’s Corollary says that if technology can mess something up, it will, only faster!
There are often more obstacles than rewards and the learning curve is noticeably steep in GPBL. Technology, time, time zones, misconceptions, cultural awareness, cultural in-sensitivities, language barriers, collaboration skills, to name a few, seem almost insurmountable. With proper training of teachers (it’s appropriate at this moment to drop a shameless pitch for Wilkes University and this course at this point!), as well as proper preparation and anticipation of the challenges, GPBL can, and will be successful for our students. There are, after-all, huge rewards, as Thompson suggests, for both students and teachers.
The rewards of seeing students develop understandings about people and places and things that could not be otherwise learned is paramount. Developing an awareness of communities beyond one’s own locality is perhaps one of the greatest challenges to human existence. Solving climate, energy, economic, environmental and social problems without a global perspective will be near impossible as globalisation levels all playing fields. Our students deserve this kind of education. It’s their destiny. It may well be our destiny to provide it, and, as Thompson points out, make teaching relevant at the same time.


ED Teacher’s Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet– Pg 12. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2009, from

Melvin, K. (1986). Technology and History: Kranzberg’s Laws. Technology and Culture, 27(3), 544-560.

Thompson, S., & Scott, K. (n.d.). Is PBL Practical?. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from

Tags: Project Based Learning

From worms to butterflies to mathematics- Project Based Learning in the Real World

August 31st, 2009 · 3 Comments

The first commonality between these 3 exemplars of Project Based Learning (PBL) is the questioning that guides inquiry. In order for relevant learning to follow, students must be guided by their teachers to pose narrow, focussed questions that can only be answered by searching through vast amounts of information, or by collecting and comparing data in experiments. For example, students in the primary classroom studying worms became focused on particular aspects of worm biology as a result of being encouraged to link their inquiry to ideas already considered in the classroom.

The second common thread is the use of technology to search, gather, organize, synthesise and create a final product. Technology is not the be all and end all (See “It’s not about the technology”), however it does improve the ease of finding, gathering and organizing the information. The Internet has made information ubiquitous, however, it’s not completely necessary. Using technology as another tool in the PBL process is important, but not compulsory, as I pointed out in a Moodle posting recently. The PBL work my classes did in the mid-nineties, with minimal technology for the most part, substantiates the idea that good PBL can be done without technology. But the fact that the final products can be more engaging using technology is enough to take proper advantage of it.

The final prevalent feature of these examples of PBL is the authenticity of the projects. The learning that results must have a practical application, must be related to the real world and must be useful information in the pursuit of solutions to real world problems. The citizen science that is conducted in the Journey North Project, whereby the data collected and submitted by participating classes is used by scientists in their research affirms the work of the children. The fact that their work is available for others around the world to see, as were the contributions from my classes for Journey North. This peer judgement certainly raises the level of student productivity. In the case of the Geometry project, both peers and outside experts were used to determine the quality of work, and the students felt a huge sense of accomplishment as a result of the scrutiny of the architects who judged the projects.

The students in these PBL examples weren’t just passive learners, occasionally listening to their teachers’ lessons. They became active planners and participants in the learning, an act that reinforces the learning outcomes. The 21st century skills that group collaboration develops in projects such as these are transferable to other pursuits and it is the teachers’ role to make sure these skills are learned and practised. The content is not the teacher’s sole responsibility anymore, but rather, the facilitation of learning skills, learning outcomes, meeting provincial learning expectations, and assessment are the teacher’s main responsibilities in PBL.

The long term learning that results, besides the content that the individual inquiry uncovers, are the skills of research, collaboration and information sharing. The 21st century learner is no longer focused on the memorization of facts, but the gathering and sifting of information to create new ideas and products. Each of the three examples presented resulted in lasting and satisfying learning experiences that met the needs of the students, and the mandated curricula. Research has been done that substantiates the significant benefits to learning as a result of PBL (see Edutopia).

Tags: Project Based Learning