Engage students with project-based pedagogy

Angela Velez-Solic, Indiana University Northwest

An active learning strategy I employ and encourage of the faculty members I train is project-based courses. This can work for any teaching modality- traditional, hybrid, or online. Think about a big project idea that gets the students involve in DOING or CREATING something that is realistic, something that will benefit them in the long run, something that makes them a particular 'expert' on an area of content. Here are a few that I've designed:

1. 100-level reading, writing, study skills course: The big project is a plan to change something in their community that they want to see change-- a law, helping a specific group, advocating for animals, opening a soup kitchen, whatever they want. Each assignment has them investigating change, how people do it who are 'ordinary' but who do extraordinary things. One assignment has them looking inward and evaluating their own strengths and weaknesses for making a difference. In the end they have a plan that they may or may not see played out.

2. Professional/Business Writing. The project involves them opening a business branch overseas. They make up their business, its product or process, choose a country, a city, inform their employees of the branch overseas, write a letter to the media to quell rumors, design a brochure to lure volunteers, research the country and its communication preferences, dress code, business practices, food, entertainment, etc. and they create a handbook for employees. It culminates in a final presentation for employees and stakeholders.

3. British Literature. Students choose an author and they become an expert on him or her. Each assignment involves them investigating the author's personal life, climate of Britain and historical 'goings on' at the time period, the various works that person wrote and summary of them, and other projects. It culminates in a presentation of what they've learned about the author.

Students love how these are very real for them (well, British Lit, maybe not so much, but the other two definitely). They're learning how to write, how to communicate, and how to research, but are having fun and learning essential skills while doing it. The learning is memorable and sometimes life changing.