What do my students need to learn today? Cross-disciplinary reflections on PBL

Mike Kennedy works in the Professional Year Program at Navitas, and here he reflects on tuning in to Colin Webber’s talk on Project Based Learning at SAE.

This was a webinar, but not like what I’ve experienced before.

For starters, the sound quality was impeccable – everyone who spoke modulated clearly like a team of radio jocks in hi fidelity resonance. I could feel their voices through my headphones, vibrating within my chest – not your usual webinar sound quality!

But despite the fact that the presenters and most of the attendees were creative media educators at SAE, what they were talking about was universal for all teaching staff across Navitas:

“How to engage students as proactive learners, problem solvers and learning to tick all the boxes of employability skills so they fit seamlessly and productively into the current and future workplaces.”

Presenter Colin Webber referenced findings by audio researcher David Tough (2010) on the future skills needed for a graduate of a creative media program in the audio industry, noting that employers say that their top 20 skills (from a questionnaire listing 160 competencies), only included one skill relating to audio – the rest follow along the lines of employability skills (professional attitude, ability to learn, adapt, solve problems and so on).

This sounds familiar to what we are hearing in our area, the land of the Professional Year Program.

SAE is moving away from teachers thinking: “What am I going to teach today?” to: “What do my students need to learn next week?”  Their teachers are encouraged to consider employability skills in their feedback and assessments of their student’s work.

Their vehicle for doing this?

Project Based Learning.

Their results? Increased quality of work, increased retention rates, lower fail rates and improved marks.

Impressive results, but the message for the need to sell the sometimes cynical students (and fellow faculty members) on the more proactive and responsible mode of learning was loud and clear.

Colin talked about a T-shirt on which it said: My teacher didn’t teach me anything this year – I had to learn it all by myself! …which is only a joke if you understand and embrace the concept of learner-centred education models.

An additional message was: “It’s easy to stuff it up” – done poorly, Project Based Learning can actually result in less engaged students.

The overall takeaway for me was that Project Based Learning (…and learner-centred models in general), needs to be taken seriously.  It needs to be prepared for in curriculum design and faculty coordinated professional development, and put persuasively to students, focusing on the pleasurable result of achieving their vocational goals.

Hanging out with teachers from another discipline was a valuable experience for me, helping me see my own challenges from a different point of view.

Read more about the work that inspired these reflections here.

Something to say? Try event blogging!