Project-based Education: a Cross-curricular Solution to a Complex Problem
Are you looking for an education method that allows students to tackle complex, interdisciplinary or cross-curricular issues? Do you want to enhance the integration of content and skills on the long term? Project-based education is a strong education method to reach these goals!
What is project-based education?
A project is an education method in which students learn over a longer period by studying and responding to complex questions, problems or challenges. Project-based education can take shape as independent work or group work with a strong emphasis on integrating content and skills of various course units.
Students perform a series of activities without permanent supervision, leading to a final product which is presented for evaluation.
A specific example is a research project, during which students have to independently design a study and / or conduct it under supervision. This method shows the student whether they are capable of phrasing a research question, processing the field literature, developing an appropriate methodology and interpreting, reporting and evaluating the results of existing / own research. This thesis or design can constitute the final part of a study programme, for example as a Master’s thesis.
How can you implement project-based education?
A project ensures students work in an integrated manner. This education method facilitates developing final competencies such as problem-solving, critical thinking, cooperating and communicating, as well as creating and innovating. Project-based education can take place both within and outside of university premises.
Which focus areas exist for project-based education?
Consult with lecturers of the course units.
A clear assignment and proper supervision throughout the project with proper feedback during the process are crucial to reach good learning effects. When project work is implemented in a cross-curricular / interdisciplinary way, a thorough alignment of, and cooperation between, lecturers is vital.
Provide a manual
A student manual is a good tool to support the process. Provide a project description, final and midterm products, a schedule, obligatory and suggested literature, evaluation criteria and contact details of responsible project supervisors.
Technology can support cooperation between students. As a digital learning environment, Ufora enables e.g. editing documents as a group or setting up peer evaluation.
Pay attention to the group, role and task allocation.
The composition and size of the groups is a key to success for this educational method. Assigning roles and allocating clearly defined subtasks helps to align group work with the project.
Supervise the students actively during e.g. feedback sessions and pay attention to both the product and the process.
Why is Community Service Learning a special type of project-based education?
Community Service Learning (CSL) is an education method in which students apply theory during a concrete, societal engagement, individually or in group, within or outside of university premises (e.g. students of Industrial Engineering design a tool for people with a disability). This community service is part of a course unit.
This way, students get to know the real needs within society. Knowledge sharing and reciprocity are at the centre of CSL. Not only does the student acquire knowledge, but the organization is also supported for responding to a specific inquiry. Moreover, students are stimulated to reflect critically on their societal contribution and learning process.
Ghent University wants to encourage new CSL-initiatives. To that end, a CSL-tool (in Dutch) exists, which offers lecturers guidance to implement CSL in new or existing course units. In the tool, you can find:
- Definition and characteristics,
- five steps to implement CSL in a course unit,
- practical guidance,
- and good case examples.
Do you want to know more?
Read the sources upon which this educational tip is based:
- Bell, S. (2010). Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 83(2,), 39-43.
- BV Databank. (2015). Project work. Consulted on 11/10/2019 via https://www.bvdatabank.be/node/175
- Buck Institute for Education. (z.d.). PBLworks. Consulted on 11/10/2019 via https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl