Project-Based Learning is a successful educational method designed to build up into durable, usable, and flexible knowledge. Applying this approach in a Virtual Classroom sums up the advantages of project-based learning to the many possibilities offered by digital technologies online. The best teaching practices in the remote setting of project-based assignments focus on teamwork, empathy, relevance, project management tools, online fieldwork, student choice, exposure of results, definition of roles and feedback. The Virtual Classroom provides a suitable environment with many tools and functions to perform those practices. Successful implementation of project-based learning in the virtual context requires the educators to step up from the position of mere tutors into the role of facilitators who help the students grow into skilled professionals who will excel in their future careers.
Best Practices Project Management tools
Using project management tools allows teachers to manage the teams and monitor the works’ progress. Another benefit of those apps and resources is that they are designed to improve the communication and enhance student engagement in the learning process while putting the learners in a real-life working setting. Using such tools also helps to keep all project resources and information in one place, in convenient and accessible form to all the participants.
An excellent option to prepare the students for the real-life scenario of a work assignment is to use the ability of Virtual Classroom to be fully integrated with many other educative and training resources online, like Google Classroom and all the leading LMS platforms: Schoology, Canvas, Moodle, Brightspace by D2L. Using some of those for different tasks within a project will help the students handle different interfaces and acquire an ease with which to accustom themselves with new software which is a crucial skill for any profession they might choose.
Define individual and group roles
In project-based learning it is crucial to specify the roles of every individual and team. This will teach the students to focus on their particular task while at the same time collaborating within their group and outside of it whilst aiming for the overall goal. Teachers are to set clearly defined roles and to assess students based on their particular contribution and team performance. The online context allows evaluations to happen in a private as well as a public context, depending on the pedagogical approach.
Tutors can easily apply this technique in the Virtual Classroom using the functionality of Breakout Rooms. Projects can be split into several steps and given as separate assignments to different groups of students. The settings of the rooms can allow or forbid the mutual interaction of the groups, depending on the project. Also, some students can be put alone in a room to accomplish a specific task. Every individual or group can share their results only afterwards, when everyone is back in the main room, or transmit those results to another room or group if the project elaboration should be performed step by step.
Practice and induce empathy
In a real-life scenario launching a new product, service or activity means to have a thorough knowledge of those who will use it and benefit from it. While developing a project, it is crucial for the students to put themselves in this setting. Tutors should motivate them also to switch roles and tasks in order to understand the different prospective of their team members, depending of the specifics of each particular task assigned within the global project.
The Virtual Classroom’s settings give the tutor the option to control who is speaking, sharing camera, screen or some material. Students are expected to follow some predefined order, or to decide who is first based on real time mutual agreement. Granting them the freedom to organize and manage themselves, the tutor will encourage respect, understanding and empathy through the trust given to the students.
Presentation & exposure of results
When practicing remote project-based learning, all schooling professionals should focus on the importance of publishing the project’s results. In the students’ future careers outcome’s, exposure will be a key element, therefore sharing and presenting one’s work to public audiences is a must in the teaching process. Providing students with this real-life context gives them the motivation to be meticulous and goal-oriented in their work. It also helps them understand its broader impact and meaning on a larger scale.
The Virtual Classroom has all the necessary tools for presenting the results of a project based educational process. Students can themselves upload all types of information, design and organize a room or a section of the whiteboard to showcase their work. The options to save and export from the whiteboard facilitate the tutor’s follow up, as well as the students’ preparation for an excellent public exposure of their achievements.
Feedback & self evaluation
While feedback from the tutor as well as from the peers is always helpful, it is particularly important in an online setting which lacks the physical interaction. Teachers should focus on providing their detailed feedback along the stages of the project’s development. Moreover, they should emphasize the importance of mutual end self evaluation. All students have to feel confident to solicit, receive and provide feedback within the group. They should be able to express a critical opinion on their own work and achievements, as well as on their peers’ performance and results.
As has been mentioned previously, the different settings of the Virtual Classroom give the students the opportunity to become presenters, evaluators, leaders, even mentors. While in those different roles, they will receive and give feedback, switching between one-to-one or group discussions on performance and results. Tracking, saving and exporting of all the activity in the Virtual Classroom is another great advantage that allows feedback to be generated at any moment after the actual educative session.
The Future of the online Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning in the virtual classroom transforms the roles of students and teachers for the benefit of both groups. The remote context of the educative process encourages the building of durable, usable, and flexible knowledge. It stimulates and motivates learning through creativity, choice, self-reflection and team spirit. Project-based learning in the online environment is a way for educators to leave their position in front of the students and become facilitators who promote skilled professionals into their future success careers.