In this section, Professor Eric Klopfer shares tips for facilitating learning in a project-based course. He discusses the importance of providing ongoing feedback, of adapting the curriculum each year to meet the needs of new students, and of clarifying what kind of learning experience students can expect to have in a project-based course.
Provide Ongoing Feedback
I recommend that educators facilitating project-based learning build in opportunities to give students feedback on their work throughout the course and well before they submit their final projects. In 11.127J Computer Games and Simulations for Education and Exploration, we spent time meeting with groups and giving teams feedback every other class session. During these feedback sessions, we asked students to give us updates on their progress, but instead of asking for updates, in general, we asked specific questions, such as:
- Within the past week, what was one challenge you faced? What was one success you had?
- How did you incorporate our feedback from last week?
- How would an expert use your game in an educational setting?
- How are you going to assess whether students have learning anything from this game?
These questions were game-specific and were designed in a way that allowed students to give us brief responses from which we gained insight, relatively quickly, into how things were going with the project, and how we could guide it in the right direction. This strategy worked really well for us, and I encourage other instructors to try it.
I recommend that educators facilitating project-based learning build in opportunities to give students feedback on their work throughout the course and well before they submit their final projects.
— Eric Klopfer
Each year we have a different group of students and they have different challenges and areas of strength. It’s important to remain flexible when planning a project-based course. For us, this involves saying, “Ok, maybe this year we’re going to have a class session during which we discuss a particular topic we didn’t discuss last year because it seems to be something that students this year find challenging.” Or, “We were planning on bringing in a guest speaker to talk about a particular topic, but it seems like students this year aren’t interested in that topic, or they’re already experts in that domain.” I think it’s vital for instructors to adapt the curriculum—and the projects—to reflect the strengths and the challenges students bring to the course.
It’s also important to be really clear about what kind of learning experience students can expect to have in the project-based class. I’m much clearer about this now than I used to be. In 11.127J Computer Games and Simulations for Education and Exploration, there aren’t a lot of lectures. In fact, I think I lecture one time. The course is largely interactive and project-based. There are a lot of readings and discussions, and it almost feels like a Socratic seminar. Students really need to have ownership of their learning. They need to do a lot of research for their games—and that research may be in domains I know little about. I tell students they should take the course only if they are ready for this kind of experience. This gives students an opportunity to really think about whether or not this class is the right fit for them.