Project-based learning (PBL) is a method teachers employ that requires students to integrate and synthesize skills from different subjects to solve complex, real-world problems. It focuses on active learning through the completion of hands-on projects rather than passive absorption of information. PBL is not a new technique and it can certainly be argued that this process has been the foundation of all learning since the earliest times. However, in our digital age the PBL method can be enhanced remarkably when combined with the use of digital portfolios or ePortfolios as they are more commonly called. Students and teachers can now use ePortfolios to collaborate on projects in real-time and develop perceptive skills while obtaining feedback from their classmates and teachers on their work. ePportfolios can be especially useful in group projects as they facilitate student collaboration. PBL through ePortfolios provides distinct advantages for students:
Students are encouraged to synthesize knowledge and think, instead of just memorize;
Students are given a great collaborative tool for solving problems;
New material can be introduced to students in different ways, including multimedia.
Students can be given continual feedback and assessment
Education has too often focused on rote memorization rather than actual synthesis of knowledge with the result that many students cannot employ information in a creative manner, because they never learned it with problem solving in mind. Project-based learning provides students with a context for the information they learn; it places theory into a real-world context. For example, instead of requiring students to read a book on modern China, a teacher may assign a project. Students may have to give a series of presentations on Chinese art, modern political economy, and environmental challenges. These areas combine art, politics/history, and science into one theme. Such projects also force students to recognize information and distill it into a presentable format. Students can thus develop their reasoning skills and find creative solutions to questions that do not have a clear answer.
Project-based learning also requires that students engage in discourse and idea sharing with classmates. Collaboration becomes important in the working world, as concepts often need several levels of colleague verification and input before implementation. The same proves true for PBL. Several students with delegated tasks working in a group can use their collective knowledge to produce a more comprehensive product than one could alone. Constant reflection and adjustment of ideas and concepts allows students to engage the material at a deeper level; students help one another learn. Possibilities expand further when students use ePortfolios to connect and work on projects. They have many more opportunities to interact through the ePortfolio than they would by working on the project during or after school thus perpetuating the learning process.
Engaging student interest is perhaps the most compelling argument for the implementation of project-based learning. Lectures often leave students bored and without a deeper understanding of the material. In a PBL setting, teachers often give students only a basic introduction to the material. In this scenario students are required to make the transition from teacher-directed instruction to self-directed learning. The goal is for the students to immerse themselves in the learning process to the point that it does not feel tedious or like work. The project becomes more like play for them. Students who like school and learning will have a greater craving for knowledge and that process will transfer to a higher rate of learning. The theory behind project-based learning is that forced feeding of information does not yield optimal results. Learning should be an organic process that gives students the opportunity to discover knowledge for themselves. The first step in the process is for students to be engaged. They will simply perform at a higher level if they are truly interested in what they are doing.