I don’t know about you, but I find that I meet with mixed success in these efforts. Some projects work really well while others don’t go nearly as smoothly or don’t seem as valuable. In other words, not all projects are created equal. I recently read a great post on the Creative Educator blog called, What Makes a Good Project. The author shares eight elements that make for a successful project:
- Purpose and Relevance – will the project be meaningful for students?
- Time – will the students have enough time to engage in deep learning?
- Complexity – will students have to draw on concepts, skills, and practices in other courses or even other fields to complete the work?
- Intensity – will the project inspire the students to engage in intense work?
- Connected – will the students collaborate with each other and/or experts in the field as they learn?
- Access – will students access a range of materials and resources?
- Shareable – will they share their work with an audience beyond the classroom and instructor?
- Novelty – will students encounter a new challenge or experience in the work?
I thought I might pull back the curtain a bit and share my thinking about redesigning a project for a course I’ll teach in the fall.
The existing project
One course I frequently teach is called Designs for Technology-Enhanced Learning. It’s a course for Undergraduate and Masters students in our teacher training program. The core goal for the course is to help the students build the requisite knowledge and skills to integrate technology in their teaching. The course includes a number of different assignments, but there’s one that I think has great, but unrealized potential.
Towards the end of the course, I challenge students to identify an opportunity or challenge they have observed in the K-12 teaching placement that they think could be approached through the use of technology. The students form design team groups around a shared interest in the problem. Then, they collaboratively explore the issue and develop a plan to approach the opportunity or challenge they identified. As it currently exists, I think that it incorporates several of the elements described above, including purpose and relevance, complexity, connected and access. I think, however, there are opportunities to tweak the project to make it even more meaningful for my students.
The “good” project
Of the missing elements, I think the two biggest missed opportunities of the current version of the project are intensity and shareable. Because the semester is winding down, I don’t see the engagement and intensity on the part of students that I’d like to see. They go through the motions, complete the work, and occasionally get fired up about it, but I think there’s a real need to ramp up the intensity.
I think one way to do this is to increase the authenticity a bit. While the opportunities or challenges they select are authentic given that they have identified them based on their experience in the school, they sometimes are still a bit contrived. I think I could increase the intensity and authenticity by involving the K-12 classroom teachers as clients for the work. Rather than asking the students to identify the opportunity or challenge, I could ask their mentor teachers what they see as important in their classroom. The students could still group up based on their interest. In this case, though, the intensity would be ramped up knowing that a teacher would be counting on them to create a realistic and viable approach that would actually be implemented with students.
In terms of “shareability,” in the past, I’ve only asked students to either briefly present their work in class and/or post their work to a class discussion board. There’s no reason that they shouldn’t share the work more broadly. I’m thinking it would be great to host an after-school poster session event for teachers in our local school division to share the work. Students might also vote on one or two projects to share as formal sessions to the whole group in addition to the poster sessions. This approach would also ratchet up the intensity and perhaps also be a novel experience for the students.
While we could undoubtedly identify additional elements that define a meaningful project, I think these eight elements are a great place to start when designing a new project or breathing new life into a tried and true project.
What kinds of meaningful projects do you incorporate in your courses?
Please post your comments below.