Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Project Based Learning, Some Research (Part 4)

For previous posts in this series click Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 — Image Source, User Jarmoluk, Pixabay.com

Project-based, inquiry-focused pedagogy is gaining steam because (ideally) it puts students at the center of their own learning. Project based learning (PBL) and similar pedagogies emphasize collaborative skills like communication and problem solving alongside individual critical thinking and creativity. If pedagogies like PBL really do change paradigms away from teacher-led instructionism to student-led constructivism then it is necessary to focus on student motivation, engagement, and perception. Can PBL make school less of a drag? Can PBL actually help (re)motivate a love of learning?

Michael Grant (2011) writes:
“If indeed project-based learning is rooted in constructivism and constructionism, if project-based learning is founded in the personal interests and motivations of the learner, and if the learning artifacts are representations of a learner’s knowledge, then it is paramount that we come to understand how learners negotiate projects and what they learn during project-based learning lessons” (p. 39). 
With that in mind, the latest post in my Project Based Learning Research series focuses on student motivation, engagement, and perception.

Image Source — User ebpilgram, Pixabay.com

Title:Challenge in a Mathematics Classroom: Students’ Motivation and Strategies in Project Based Learning” 
Authors: Debra K. Meyer, Julianne C. Turner, and Cynthia A. Spencer (1997) 
Methodology: The study uses mixed methods to investigate motivation and the effects of ‘challenge’ during a math project based learning unit. A series of quantitative surveys were distributed to fourteen fifth and sixth graders. These surveys helped identify students as challenge-avoiders or challenge-seekers. The authors then interviewed students to gather qualitative data before, during, and after the project to better understand each student vis-à-vis the identification. 
Key Findings: The authors highlight three findings. First, students are motivated by a variety of factors. Motivation, volition, and affect contribute to both goal setting and decision making. The goals, strategies, and motivations lead to different student outcomes. Second, challenging work, like project based learning, must be supported and contextualized with consideration to student motivation. The authors write, “…teachers need to be able to predict how students will respond so that they can build in safeguards to nurture and protect thinking.” (Meyer, Turner, and Spencer, 1997, p. 518). Finally, teachers and stakeholders need to focus on more than task or curriculum to support reform pedagogies like challenge based or project based learning. Well designed projects and curriculum can fail if learners have insufficient experience or support for new learning activities (Meyer, et al., 1997, p. 518). 
My Takeaways: Sometimes the obvious bears repeating. Project based and challenge based learning can be a new and uncomfortable experience for students. Students are often used to the ‘game’ of school. Whether one plays the traditional game successfully, or comes to loathe it, PBL is a whole new ball game. Meyer, et al. (1997) reiterate this point,“Typical classroom goals like accuracy, speed, and completion dates may conflict with the project based (math) goals of justification, thoughtfulness, and revision” (p. 517). It is imperative that teachers are proactive in supporting students in a new type of learning that is more authentic, but also calls for the learner to take risks.

Title:Learning, Beliefs, and Products: Students’ Perspectives with Project-Based Learning

Author: Michael M. Grant (2011)

Methodology: Research was conducted by following a case study method. Grant (2011) writes, “The initial unit of analysis was each participant individually, and then themes were developed by aggregating findings across all participants” (p.40).

Key Findings: Five main themes emerged from the results of the case studies. The five themes reflected the experience of the students studied. The themes were:
  • 1) internal influences 
  • 2) external influences 
  • 3) beliefs about projects 
  • 4) tools for technology rich environment 
  • 5) learning outcomes and products 
Grant (2011) writes in conclusion: 
“This research suggested participants considered the resources available to them, the amount of time it would take to complete the project, how difficult it would be to complete the project, how much effort was necessary to obtain a good grade, and whether the project met teacher expectations. While the participants met and exceeded the learning content expectations, none of their considerations directly related to the content” (p. 65). 
My Takeaways: The sample size is small (four students) and the population is from a small private day school. Therefore, all results should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, there are some great tidbits that need to be studied more. Students struggled with the length and level of depth the project required. While students noticed various motivational elements like self-direction, learner autonomy, and multiple learning styles were present, they ultimately looked to please the teacher and reproduce ‘safe’, repeated products. Students failed to see how learning transferred between school subjects and did not connect intrinsically with the project. Students enjoyed the project to traditional school, but also expressed that projects were less rigorous. This ‘lack of rigor’ could be attributed to the fact that project based learning is a fundamental shift to traditional notions of schooling.

Image Source, User Weinstock, Pixabay.com

Title:Teacher and Student Intrinsic Motivation in Project-based Learning

Authors: S. Lam, RW Cheng, and WYK Ma (2009)

Methodology: The authors sought, “to investigate how teacher intrinsic motivation was related to student intrinsic motivation in project-based learning” (Lam, Cheng, and Ma, 2009, p.5). A scale survey was administered to teachers and students to gather quantitative data and measure intrinsic motivation, cognitive support, instructional support, and affective support. The study was conducted in Hong Kong.

Key Findings: The study found a positive relationship between intrinsic teacher motivation and student intrinsic motivation during project-based learning. Lam, et al. (2009) write, “Regardless of whether it is by the mechanism of instructional practices, modeling, or expectancy formation, teacher intrinsic motivation is associated positively with student intrinsic motivation” (p. 22).

My Takeaways: Read the following quote a few times, “These results support the argument that teacher and student intrinsic motivations are interconnected by multiple psychological processes” (Lam, et al., 2009, p. 18). Think about that. These findings are important in the context of classroom and school culture. Students feed off teachers, teachers feed off students. Seems obvious, but all educators need to be reminded of this. If a PBL based curriculum allows for more intrinsic motivation for both student and teacher, a tremendous synergy is possible.

Title:The Effects of a Collaborative Problem-based Learning Experience on Students’ Motivation in Engineering Capstone Courses

Authors: Brett D. Jones, Cory M. Epler, Parastou Mokri, Lauren H. Bryant, Marie C. Paretti (2013)

Methodology: The researchers posed this research question,“How do the elements of PBL-based capstone engineering courses relate to students’ motivation to engage in the courses?” (Jones, Epler, Mokri, Bryant, and Chen, 2013, p. 41) The study used a two-phase, mixed methods design to gather data. The first phase consisted of a questionnaire to collect quantitative data and the second phase consisted of qualitative interviews. The MUSIC Model of Academic Motivation (Jones, 2009) was used to frame student motivation. The MUSIC Model of Motivation identifies five key components to student motivation — eMpowerment, usefulness, success, interest, and care (from instructor).

Key Findings: PBL allows for a variety of motivating opportunities. The study categorizes three broad themes of motivating opportunities — Project Design, Group Experience, and Project Advisor (Jones, et al., 2013). The sheer quantity and range of motivation opportunities in PBL presents a double-sided coin. “The number and variety of motivating opportunities available in PBL courses can be a real asset to instructors in motivating students. When managed inappropriately, however, they can lead to students’ frustration and a lack of motivation” (Jones, et al., 2013, p. 63). By identifying instructions elements with motivation opportunities instructors can improve PBL practice.

My Takeaways: I was most struck with the impact of relationships and instructors on motivation. Jones, et al. (2013) writes, “Situational interest was primarily impacted through interactions with other students and their advisor. This finding demonstrates the importance of the relationships in PBL courses” (p. 58). Whether it is the relationship between group members, the relationship between teacher to student, or the relationship between advisors and group, it is essential to find a balance of autonomy, support, and communication. The relationships between participants and stake-holders play a large role in student motivation during PBL. Students expressed the need for greater instruction with communication skills to navigate, and make effective, the different relationships inherent in PBL.

Image Source, User Elizabethaferry, Pixabay.com

Title:The Effectiveness of Project-Based Learning on Pupils with Learning Difficulties Regarding Academic Performance, Group Work, and Motivation

Authors: Diamanto Filippatou and Stavroula Kaldi (2010)

Methodology: “The methodology applied in this study was a combination of a pre-experimental design (the one group pre-test-post-test design) and the case study research design” (Filippatou and Kaldi, 2010, p.19). The study looked at the impact of PBL on students with learning disabilities in regards to the following dependent variables:
  • 1) academic performance 
  • 2) self-efficacy in terms of environmental studies 
  • 3) task value 
  • 4) group work 
  • 5) teaching methods 
Key Findings: Overall, the researchers found a positive relationship between PBL and pupils with learning disabilities. Filippatou and Kaldi (2010) write:
“On average, after the implementation of the project on environmental studies, pupils with learning difficulties believed they could perform better in the environmental studies than they did before, they scored higher this subject area, they liked working in teams more than doing work on their own and they also found group work more effective in terms of their engagement in the learning process. Furthermore, as it was expected, they stated that they found experiential learning more beneficial than traditional teaching” (p. 23).
My Takeaways: The cooperative learning inherent in well-done PBL creates engagement and student centered learning for all students. The social benefits of PBL appear significant to students with learning disabilities. The study suggests that the opportunity to participate and contribute in groups motivates students with learning disabilities. “These pupils’ views about the benefits of group work on learning outcomes, peer interactions and acceptance in the group has significantly changed after their learning experiences with the project” (p. 24).

Looking closely at the data, pupils with learning disabilities were behaviorally and socially engaged, but not necessarily cognitively engaged. The authors suggest targeted teacher support is helpful to access text and other content sources, as well as the benefits of cooperative learning. Finally, the study shows the potential for PBL with all types of students. Bonus: Edelson, Gordon, and Pea (1999) find that motivation and engagement are difficult to maintain for long, extended projects and activities.

Bonus: Edelson, Gordon, and Pea (1999) find that motivation and engagement are difficult to maintain for long, extended projects and activities.

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