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I recently read, and today re-read, a short handout by Gary Stager that I came across on this blog entry:

What Makes a Good Project?

In the November 2008 issue of The Creative Educator magazine, there is the first of a two-part article on project- based learning by Gary Stager and illustrated by Peter Reynolds.


The article is targetted mainly at a k-12 context but I am engaged in instructional design in a higher education setting and believe that there are many aspects of these guidelines that can inform the development of effective flexible learning project strategies at university.

There is a belief that many academics, being subject specialists, are not predisposed to adopting the most effective teaching and learning strategies to engage students in blended university settings (remote, offshore, regional and local as a common cohort). This belief may or may not be true and certainly will have many exceptions at the very least. Despite that we have an increasingly demanding population of learners who expect to be engaged in university studies, geared more to action and involvement than passivity and individual pursuit.

Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century. — Bob Perelman.

Most students arrive with some form of vocational focus and most undergraduate courses service this vocational element (while always looking for those to adopt research and postgraduate pathways). Given that most vocations are about “doing” something it seems to make sense that university project work should reflect a good measure of practical engagement with knowledge.

Stager identifies these features:

A good project will:

  • be relevant and purposeful;
  • have sufficient time allocated to its completion;
  • be appropriately complex;
  • provide opportunities for intense engagement;
  • connect learners;
  • require access to quality tools and resources;
  • will result in the creation of shareable output;
  • provide a measure of novelty.

As more and more universities adopt flexible learning policies we’ll see a greater demand for subject experts to rely less on their LMS for simple distribution (delivery) of content… the Learning Management Systems will need to be appropriately leveraged to become sites that facilitate and support learning communities (communities of practice and communities of interest). Reading and rehashing journal articles is seldom a satisfying past-time to do in isolation – however in a collaborative and connected learning environment the process can become a social learning activity that extends the individual learner.

Academics and universities willing to provide that social context (regardless of student location) and meaningful project work will be the leaders in the next wave of education.

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