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Spring on the York College campus

Project-Based Learning

The old-school model of passively learning facts and reciting them out of context is not sufficient to survive in today's world. Solving highly complex problems requires that students have both fundamental skills (reading, writing, and math) and 21st century skills (teamwork, problem-solving, research gathering, time management, information synthesizing, utilizing high tech tools). With this combination of skills, students become directors and managers of their learning process, guided and mentored by their professors and experts in the community. Research shows that students will learn better:

  • Personal and social responsibility
  • Planning, critical thinking, reasoning, and creativity
  • Strong communication skills
  • Cross-cultural understanding
  • Visualizing and decision making
  • Using technology and selecting the appropriate tool for the task
A group of York College students are participating in the restoration of the historic Yorktowne Hotel.

Project-Based Learning at York College

  • Examples of Project Based Learning
  • Designing Project-Based Learning

    Designing Project-Based Learning

    Characteristics of Project-Based Learning

    There are several characteristics that PBL activities hold in common:

    • There must be the presence of a driving question or central concept.
    • Students must learn through investigation of defined goals and should be constructive and knowledge building.
    • Projects are student-centered with teacher facilitation or guidance.
    • Projects are real-world and have significance to the student.
    • There is a task, a process, a product and a reflection. 

    These characteristics are incorporated into the eight essential elements of Project Based Learning.

    1. Significant Content must be the basis for any PBL assignment. In fact, BIE states it "…addresses a singular need in the field of PBL: to create standards-focused projects that fit well with the era of accountability and performance." (BIE, 2013). It stands to be a significant part of an evolving process that begins by establishing the expected outcome(s) and creating a learning journey whereby students encounter and assimilate ideas of relevance to a topic.
    2. Mostly referred to as A Need to Know, this introductory phase sets the stage, motivates the learners and lures them with the relevance of the material.  There is normally some kind of "event" such as a narrative assignment or video to acquaint the student with the overall expectation, the vision and process. 
    3. A Driving Question is to be the nucleus of the assignment, challenging the student to move toward a particular learning goal. It is often referred to as "…start with the end in mind", but does not identify a distinct course of educational travel. That is the option of the student.
    4. Students will now work either independently or collaboratively as they begin and will have Voice and Choice as they choose how to address their goals. By taking responsibility for their learning, the project becomes student-centered. Often a very broad topic gets narrow at this stage as learners begin to discover the finer points of a topic. Guidance from the instructor is expected at this point but only in terms of monitoring progress and direction. Students' diverse learning styles are respected and encouraged.
    5. Developing 21st Century Skills is one of the most powerful outcomes of this prototype. Skills necessary to the workplace are established such as collaboration and communication. Problem identification and solution are inherent to this model as a pattern of discovery ripens and takes shape. Various collaborative web applications such as IM, Google, Yahoo, Skype, Facetime, and Edmodo allow students to work together in real time or asynchronously. Thinking becomes more critical and higher level as teammates challenge each other. Intelligent listening, on the one hand, shows respect for others and on the other hand, more likely assures certain deference so that a free exchange of viewpoints is represented and decisions can be of a broader knowledge base.
    6. Instructors must be available as the Inquiry and Innovation step is entered. The art of true inquiry involves many resources and even more questions. Guided brainstorming will assist students and begin to mold the direction, present and future, of the desired outcome. As the steps of inquiry take shape, expertise is cultivated and learning is meaningful. Ownership is now present. Students may begin to move from finding definition and shape to creating and innovating new concepts that could lead them to their own unique spin of the topic.
    7. Feedback and Revision makes clear the progressive knowledge constructed and a learning loop. As the instructor provides feedback, the participants will begin to manage their knowledge in a way that forces new thinking or rethinking. Peer feedback is also important at this juncture. This is the place where the pyramid of information overrides the project outcome and clarification of ideas becomes necessary and useful. Many times, students will need to be motivated to continue as at this point, much time has been devoted to the assignment and deflation might be typical.
    8. Publicly Presented Product ups the game, so to speak. Knowledge of the project, as well as the process, demands students to own their efforts and thinking. Presentations can be made before peers, administrators, community members or leaders, or parents. Public speaking anxiety is the most common of all phobias. Students should not only be knowledgeable but prepare themselves for whatever questions or comments may happen and learn to think on their feet. This real-world skill can be a crowning event to an arduous path and should be celebrated.

    Moving forward or changing the way we teach can feel risky but there are many 21st Century Skills that can help. Websites are full of blogs, FAQs, and interactive commentary areas that afford faculty the opportunity to speak to others about the challenges and experiences of a PBL classroom. Project ideas sites abound for every age and grade level. Though some students will require more motivation than others, that is not unique to PBL. Being sensitive, especially during times of group formation, will persuade and launch new learning relationships. Many incoming college students have been involved in at least one Project Based Learning assignment and are familiar enough with the process to do some peer-teaching.  Developing lifelong learners with advanced thinking skills, good inquiry skills, the art of listening and seasoned public speaking goes a long way toward preparing them as they face their workplace responsibilities and opportunities.

  • Resources
Contact Us
Center for Academic Innovation
Campbell Hall, 216
Phone: 717.815.6750

Cynthia Crimmins


Renee Figge
Administrative Assistant


Adrienne Brenner
Adjunct Faculty Fellow


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