New tricks for an old dog

New tricks for an old dogThe concept of project-based learning has been around for a long time, but it is experiencing a resurgence, in part, due to innovative software that is opening new doors that help students collaborate. Until recently, technical support for group projects has fallen short. But that is all changing.

With a little creativity and some customization, institutions are building the tools they need. In the Campus Technology article Tools for Teamwork, David Raths highlights four specialized tools that bolster cooperation among students.

Document sharing

M+Box, University of Michigan’s branded version of Box, offers users 50 GB of storage—which works better for large video files and can be accessed from a central location. Resources are available at the same time to all team members, so faculty don’t have to spend time searching YouTube or Vimeo for projects. With one button, faculty can weigh in on student work in a comment box and email all team members. This transparency facilitates valuable interactions, promotes virtual self-expression, and enables collaboration with technology.

Screen sharing

Using Tidebreak ClassSpot PBL, Winona State University redesigned a 25-student classroom into a visual media studio. The studio features five tables with a shared display all connected to a computer, and an 80-inch white board. Students simply sit down, download the software onto their laptops, and in minutes are able to share screens on the monitor at their table. They can easily choose and annotate photos, and then take control and present projects to the entire group from the large interactive touchscreen. The software helps them work in larger, more diverse groups; students from computer science, mass communications, and art classes meet to do group projects involving graphic design, advertising, and mobile app development.

Social bookmarking

A cross-disciplinary team hunkered down at the Rochester Institute of Technology campus to create RIT BookBag. This web-based tool allows faculty to integrate a wide array of digital research materials as well as RIT’s library resources into a course curriculum and share with students. Faculty simply search for resources, then use RIT BookBag to populate syllabus content, add required material, and include pertinent links. Students can also share links to relevant material. Because a classroom includes different learning styles, some students learn more from each other’s research and the resources they found. It also gives students who would otherwise be too shy to speak up in class the opportunity to make valuable contributions and participate in virtual conversations.

Polling software

It can be tough to get students participate in large classes and even tougher to gather their responses. Institutions across the nation are ditching clicker hardware in favor of Poll Everywhere, software that allows students to talk with each other in small groups—via Twitter, text, or the web—and then share replies with other groups. Another option is Learning Catalytics which is now used in classes at the US Air Force Academy and Yale University for peer instruction and to encourage conversation. With Learning Catalytics, faculty can see how each individual responded and then group students based on their responses. After grouping students and letting them work together, instructors use the tool to measure the number of correct answers, which in most cases, improves as a result of peer interaction.

There’s no more, sit, stay. Your students are ready to play. How are you using software to support your project-based learning strategies?

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