*** NOTICE ***
The ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information & Technology
web site is no longer in operation.
The United States Department of Education continues to offer the
All ERIC Clearinghouses plus AskERIC will be closed permanently as of December 31, 2003.
In January 2004, the Department of Education will implement a reengineering plan for ERIC. The new ERIC mission continues the core function of providing a centralized bibliographic database of journal articles and other published and unpublished education materials. It enhances the database by adding free full text and electronic links to commercial sources and by making it easy to use and up to date.
From January 2004 until the new ERIC model for acquiring education literature is developed later in 2004, no new materials will be received and accepted for the database. However, the ERIC database will continue to grow, as thousands of documents selected by the ERIC clearinghouses throughout 2003 will be added. When the new model is ready later in 2004, the new ERIC contractor will communicate with publishers, education organizations, and other database contributors to add publications and materials released from January 2004 forward.
§ Search the ERIC database.
§ Search the ERIC Calendar of Education-Related Conferences.
§ Link to the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS) to purchase ERIC full-text documents.
§ Link to the ERIC Processing and Reference Facility to purchase ERIC tapes and tools.
§ Stay up-to-date about the ERIC transition to a new contractor and model.
Fostering Project-Based Learning with Multimedia
In 1995, the Silicon Valley Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project—or the Multimedia Project, for short—was launched as one of the original nineteen Technology Innovation Challenge Grants funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of these grants was to support innovative applications of information and computer technologies to systemic educational reform. The grants provided substantial funding over a five-year period to school districts—in partnership with businesses, community organizations, and educational researchers—to implement, evaluate, and document cutting-edge ideas.
In the case of the Multimedia Project, our goal was to infuse the classrooms of Silicon Valley with an exemplary model of project-based learning supported by multimedia (PBL+MM). What did we mean by that? We defined PBL+MM as “a method of teaching in which students acquire new knowledge and skills in the course of designing, planning, and producing a multimedia product.” And we said that “exemplary” PBL+MM would embody seven key dimensions: core curriculum, real world connection, extended time frame, student decision making, collaboration, systematic assessment, and use of multimedia as a tool.
Accomplishing the project’s goal required the combined efforts of many people playing complementary roles. The core work was done by a group of classroom teachers that grew in number to over 150 and represented 50 schools in eleven school districts spanning the 1,740 square-mile Silicon Valley region. For most of these teachers, multimedia was a new technology, and many had only passing experience with project-based learning. What they shared at the outset was an interest in learning more about technology and a desire to provide the best education possible for their students. As members of what came to be called the project cadre, these teachers attended summer institutes and monthly workshops. They participated in on-line discussions. They used and contributed to the project’s Web site. They developed new relationships with colleagues from other schools and districts with whom they formed a strong community of practice. Through trial and error, exasperation, elation, and reflection, they shaped our concept of exemplary PBL+MM and what it takes to make it happen in the classroom.
Supporting cadre teachers was a special set of individuals who served in the role of Technology Learning Coordinator (TLC). These were experienced classroom teachers who were “early adopters” of technology and had become skilled technology users. Each TLC had responsibility for a “team” of four to six cadre members. Grant funds were used to release TLC’s from some of their classroom teaching responsibilities, which enabled them to provide their cadre members with on-site coaching and support, organize and lead local workshops, and coordinate their team’s participation in annual exhibitions of student work and other project-wide activities.
Several organizations made significant contributions to the Project. Researchers and theorists from the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL) and SRI International, both in Menlo Park, California, helped develop the Project’s initial plan and provided a range of consultative services throughout the course of the Project. Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a non-profit regional organization comprised of leaders from business, education, and government, provided an institutional “umbrella” that facilitated the necessary collaboration among schools and districts in the many different cities and communities that comprise Silicon Valley. San Mateo and Santa Clara County Offices of Education helped in many ways, such as providing fiscal oversight, meeting facilities, and help with integrating project activities with other professional development programs already underway.
The success of the Multimedia Project earned it recognition in September 2000 as one of only two educational technology programs nationwide to be cited as “exemplary” by the Education Department’s Educational Technology Expert Panel. Mandated by the Educational Research, Development and Improvement Act of 1994, the eighteen-member panel was composed of educational practitioners, researchers, school reformers, evaluators, and representatives from local education agencies, institutes of higher education, businesses, foundations, and state and federal agencies. Its charge from Congress was to identify exemplary and promising programs based on four criteria: quality of program, educational significance, evidence of effectiveness, and usefulness to others.
Elements of Success
What accounts for the Multimedia Project’s success? No one thing, of course, but I believe the following three factors worked very much in our favor:
What lessons did we learn? Three stand out. First, doing really good PBL+MM is extremely difficult! To be successful requires a lot of teachers. They need to know their curriculum backwards and forwards if they are to design units that are really appropriate for project-based learning. A teacher working with a new subject or grade level will have a very difficult time knowing just where the “perfect project” lies. Teachers need to be in touch with their students’ lives in order to find the right way to forge the connection between schoolwork and the real world. They need confidence in themselves and tolerance for ambiguity. They need the willingness to let the reins out and the judgment to know when they’re out far enough. Perhaps most important, they need patience and a sense of humor.
Second, success depends on good time management. Time is every teacher’s nemesis. It’s a scarce and precious resource with many demands upon it. Teachers have barely enough time to maintain their “teaching status quo” let alone embark upon major new learning and restructuring of their teaching approach. Not unlike major construction projects, PBL+MM units always seem to take longer than planned. The most successful of our teachers were the ones who planned their use of time carefully and scaled projects back to realistic proportions.
Finally, with the right combination of training, support, rewards, and accountability, teachers can make dramatic changes in their teaching practice and students can benefit from enriched educational experiences. Over time, teachers in the Multimedia Project were more likely than their non-project colleagues to take on the role of facilitator or coach, support student discussion of ideas, and encourage students to solve problems on their own. Multimedia Project students were more likely than their peers in other classrooms to engage in long-term activities, participate in small-group discussions, and actively seek solutions to problems of design. In all ways, Multimedia Project classrooms evolved in the direction of the constructivist teaching philosophy that underpins the PBL+MM model.
We’re very much looking forward to extending the PBL+MM community to teachers from across the nation, as well as throughout the world. We have developed a suite of products to help interested teachers and teacher educators learn about PBL+MM and join one another in doing projects and sharing experiences:
Much of the time, we in education hang on the pendulum while it swings back and forth. One year, we’re told to divide kids into three reading groups, teach them phonics, and insist that they look up every word in the dictionary before they’re allowed to write it on paper. The next year, we’re to immerse them in literature they can’t begin to read, on the assumption they will somehow absorb it, and lock up the dictionary while we encourage students to invent their own spelling. Fortunately, there are many teachers who recognize the folly of this either-or approach and quietly seek a balance, as Harvey Barnett likes to say, between instruction and construction. As we witness a generation of teachers retire from the classroom, I can only hope that the fresh young people who are called to teaching will have similar good sense.