Many teachers find themselves in the virtual classroom today, whether they originally intended on an online career or not. Those new to the transition often struggle with utilizing techniques like project-based learning in this medium.
However, you can adapt nearly any activity intended for the traditional classroom for remote use. Project-based learning works better in some ways online. Here are eight tips for implementing this methodology in the virtual classroom.
1. Keep Sensitivity at the Forefront
In the virtual classroom, it’s more challenging to become aware of your learner’s needs. Doing so, however, is vital to the success of project-based learning. Both socio-economic and psycho-emotional factors affect your students.
Some students might lack access to equipment while others use older computers that don’t support some apps and features. Please provide a resource list to parents to find free or low-cost equipment and other supplies to make learning possible.
Other students might hesitate to embark on collaborative projects out of social anxiety. The virtual environment does ease fears somewhat, but you, as a teacher, play a more crucial role. Make sure you review netiquette rules with your students so that they understand tones like sarcasm don’t always translate to print and can crush feelings.
2. Teach Collaboration
Unfortunately, some traditional and virtual teachers alike make the mistake of assuming that students know how to collaborate. They get frustrated while implementing project-based learning when it seems like their students aren’t working toward desired objectives.
You have to model appropriate collaboration. You can do so by outlining clear goals and objectives — for the group as a whole and individual participants. Although online tools allow unlimited team members, keep groups small to avoid freeloading, where some students rely on others to do the lion’s share.
3. Get Comfortable With Technology
If you struggle with technology, you’ll frustrate your learners while they wait for you to figure out how to work it. Some of them might get bored and tune out, defeating your project-based learning efforts before they start.
Before embarking on your project, take time to get cozy with online collaboration tools and master the ins and outs of the one you choose. Play around to find out what works best — there are tons of free options available, like Google.
4. Assign Clear Roles
At the beginning of any project-based learning activity, take time to assign clear roles within student groups. You can give your learners ownership over this process but ensure everyone is clear on what they must do before embarking.
You can use multiple methods. Start by reviewing each group member’s role with the class as a whole. Then, let them decide among their peers who does which job. If it proves too challenging, make up a set of flashcards and let the luck of the draw determine participant’s assignments.
5. Let Kids Get Off the Screen
Kids today spent too much time in front of the screen before the pandemic hit. Constant distraction from electronics can lead to behavioral problems, obesity, and even violence.
Project-based learning is ideal for getting young bodies up and moving. Make each role active. One group member may build a model while another one experiments — all off the computer. When they reconvene, they can share their efforts.
6. Establish Clear Milestones
To succeed in project-based learning, make assessment a continual part of the process instead of assigning a final grade and calling it good. You can teach time management by posting milestones for each group to hit by specified dates.
You can use various online tools to take the work burden off of yourself. Sites such as SurveyMonkey enable you to create polls to distribute to group members to assess their progress. The online software automatically tallies true-false and multiple-choice queries.
7. Meet Frequently and Practice Reflection
However, don’t rely solely on reflective surveys and forms to gauge student progress. Make sure you regularly convene to review questions and take your students’ temperature to how they feel their project-based learning project is going.
You don’t have to make these sessions lengthy — a 15-minute meeting could suffice. Have all class members attend as they can learn from their classmate’s questions. Once they feel confident, set them loose to get to work. Your learners will appreciate how this approach emulates real-world workforce tasks.
8. Use Both Teacher and Peer Evaluation
Finally, when it comes time to evaluate your project-based learning assignments, make your assessment a combination of peer-based evaluation and your grading rubric. Participants can answer follow-up questions like, “what do you think your team members did well,” and, “if you had to repeat your efforts, what would you do differently?
Ensure you share your rubric with students before you evaluate their work. Ideally, it would help if you do this when you initiate the project to demonstrate how the assessment measures the learning objectives.
Adapt Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom With These Tips
Project-based learning adapts seamlessly to the virtual classroom. Use the eight tips above to ensure that your students get maximum value from such assignments.