Project-Based Learning Using Technology
Area of Focus
A successful teacher develops and implements lesson plans, evaluates outcomes of
strategies, makes informed decisions, maintains classroom management, teaches students to be
analytical and critical thinkers, and engages students in the learning process. Unfortunately, the
latter remains a constant challenge for some educators. All too often students are forced to play
the role of passive learner. The traditional "teacher-talk" mode of instruction is still widely used.
It is this particular style of teaching of straight lecture that students suffer through: record,
rehearse, and recite information. Passivity, in this model, is regarded as learning. Learning
however, is the antithesis of passive; it is an active process. When students are assigned projects,
such as creating a PowerPoint to reveal the impact of the Holocaust, or paraphrasing a scene
from Romeo and Juliet and acting out the scene, they are more likely to learn (Moursund, 1999).
Higher-order thinking skills emerge when students hunt, gather, infer, and synthesize
information (McKenzie, 2000). In addition, some researchers indicate that technology enhances
project-based learning (Moursund, 1999). A key characteristic of this style of project-based
learning using technology is that the project does not simply focus on learning about something,
but it focuses on doing something (Moursund, 1999). It is in this manner that students learn
meaning through discovery. Students construct meaning based on their prior knowledge and
relationship with the material.
It was John Dewey in 1910 that developed the springboard for theories of today. His
belief in the true important of the teacher‟s role in providing meaningful access to learning
experiences is still the foundation upon which the ideal modern classroom is built. It was John
Dewey in his book Experience and Education (1910) who explained a teacher‟s true role in the
Teachers are the agents through which knowledge and skills are communicated
and rules of conduct enforced…[teachers] must…have that sympathetic
understanding of what is actually going on in the minds of those who are
learning…any experience…that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth
of further experience [is miseducative]…every experience enacted and undergone
modifies whether we see it or not, the quality of subsequent experiences…The
most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning. (p.
Here Dewey explains that students respect their teachers as they respect their parents, sometimes
more so because, like parents, the information teachers hold is valuable to a student‟s future well
being. Teachers are paid to direct a student‟s education in a positive not “miseducative” manner.
Teachers are paid to know more and have foresight into what experience can lead to good or bad
endings. However, teachers must allow room for students to discover their paths on their own.
During this discovery process, they will encounter success or will be challenged by failure. Both
of which are valuable learning experiences. The purpose of this study is to analyze the
effectiveness of project-based learning using informational technology in secondary education.
Project-based learning provides students with the opportunity to collaborate, to come together to
create a project, and/or to solve a problem. Research demonstrates how the collective solving of
problems, and the act of sharing ideas, of finding defensible compromises and conclusions, is in
itself educative (Fullan, 1993). Students need to realize that "effective learning mirrors effective
living" and that in the real world they will be faced with complex issues (Fullan, 1993). Project-
based learning that employs technology adds another level of complexity to the project. Students
who are unfamiliar with the tool will be faced with a dual challenge the project, and the new tool
(Moursund, 1999). A positive aspect, though, is that students can succeed on their project with
rudimentary knowledge of the computer tool. In addition, ambiguity and unfamiliarity with the
tool serve as a motivational experience, which will foster those critical thinking skills mentioned
Although important, critical thinking is only one of the many benefits of project-based
learning using technology. Another benefit lies in the power of project-based learning as a self-
reflective tool. A review of relevant literature reveals that such projects aid students in
developing a sense of trust and interdependence (Rogers, 2002). Students desire opportunities to
collaborate, and must have opportunities to share successes and difficulties with others (Rogers,
2002). To add, students need to be able to work cooperatively and support each other as they
learn to use a variety of tools and information resources in their pursuit of learning goals and
problem solving activities (Wilson, 1995). Project-based learning not only meets the needs of
divergent styles of learning, but it places the learner center-stage. In addition, it develops and
enhances problem-solving skills, while encouraging student creativity and active participation
Project-based learning, specifically project-based learning using technology, engages and
motivates. Teachers who oppose project-based learning fear that this style of teaching will
interfere with learning. However, the integration of multiple instructional technologies into
course and program delivery creates an environment in which technology enhances the learning
process, instead of distracting from it (Rogers, 2002). Projects that involve technology pique
student interest. Students learn by doing, by seeking solutions to problems (Dewey, 1916).
Project-based learning utilizing technology involves a significant amount of work from both
teachers and students, but in the end, it is a beneficial, worthwhile undertaking.
This literature review consists of the following sections
1. Definition and purpose of project-based learning using technology,
2. Learning theories/educational philosophies,
3. Change in the K-12 classroom via technology integration,
4. Motivation in the K-12 classroom,
5. Problem based learning, the role of teachers, and case studies,
6. Project-based learning, the role of teachers, and case studies, and
7. WebQuests-impact on students.
Project-Based Learning Definition and Purpose:
In 1918, William Kilpatrick, after studying Dewey‟s teachings, wrote an essay entitled
“The Project Method,” in which he encouraged a new idea called project-based learning. He
believed that “purposeful" learning, therefore, becomes the motivation for children to engage in
the project; there are four phases to a project: purposing, planning, executing and judging.
Students should play active roles in all four phases (Tate, 2001) It was Kilpatrick‟s hope that all
projects would develop solely from learner‟s interests, but in practice many teachers assign
Research reveals that today‟s project-based learning differs little from Dewey‟s inquiry
or problem-based learning (Levin, 2001). An explanation of what the difference is can be found
at http://imet.csus.edu/imet4/Gonzo/projectvsproblem.htm. In both cases there is a problem or
question and possible answers. In problem-based learning, the focus is on the real-life question
and process in which the students discover an answer. In project-based learning, projects are
“often embedded in problem-based learning, especially at the presentation stage, when it is time
to recommend potential problem solutions to a real audience” (Levin, 2001, p. 123).
To summarize, project-based learning asks students to involve themselves in a
meaningful way through projects that result in learning. These learning projects are usually
group oriented and whose axis are specific problems that the groups may choose themselves or
have assigned to them. Like in Dewey‟s model the teacher acts as a facilitator to the group
rather than a presentation source of information. The context for the project subject matter is
larger than the immediate lesson, offering self-discovered generalities. Students will conduct
research using multiple sources of information, usually touching on a number of disciplines. The
project timeline usually extends over a significant period of time, from several class periods to
longer spans. Secondary component goals of project-based learning include students increasing
their time budgeting skills, increasing their problem-solving abilities, and collaboration skills
improvement. The culminating product is often a presentation, sometimes using multimedia that
can be used or viewed by others. Assessment often includes individual self-assessment, group
assessment, and instructor assessment.
When teachers ask students to meet these challenges, when teachers ask them to produce
an end product, teachers push students into the demands of the real world. A review of relevant
literature reveals how the world is filled with these challenges that students will face one day;
and it is the teacher‟s job to give them a head start to face this unknown life ahead of them
(Gardner, 2000). Project-based learning is a medium that allows our students a guided head
start. This guidance is key. Without a well-prepared teacher, students flounder in the unknown
and cannot find their way out.
Project-based Learning and Technology
Project-based learning "focuses on central concepts and principles of a discipline,
involves students in problem-solving investigations, allows students to work autonomously to
construct own knowledge, and culminates into realistic products" (Buck Institute of Education,
2002, p. 1). Hence, project-based learning, based on this definition, presents students with
problems that require them to seek answers by conducting research, making connections between
data, challenging themselves to seek resources, and assimilating ideas into existing schemata.
The innovative power of project-based learning is evident when compared to the traditional
lecture model of teaching. For instance, learning is perceived as a personal, reflective, and
transformative process where ideas, experiences, and points of view are integrated (Sandholtz,
Ringstaff, & Dwyer 1997). The purpose of project-based learning using technology is to shift
the focus of learning away from the teacher and places it on the student.
For instance, project-based learning that utilizes technology helps students to internalize
and personalize ideas; to create situations where skills and concepts can be applied in different
contexts to explore ideas, and synthesize knowledge (Sandholtz, et al.1997). It also helps
develop and enhance higher-order thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation,
unlike the traditional model of teaching, which imprisons students at the knowledge and
comprehension level of Bloom's Taxonomy. In addition, project-based learning using
technology propels students toward higher order thinking because it requires them not only to
address a problem or task, but also to effectively plan, research, create, and present projects
using a technology tool.
A review of relevant literature reveals that project-based learning that integrates
informational technology benefits students in numerous ways: they learn self-reliance, how to
design, carry out, and evaluate a project, and more importantly, they learn in an authentic and
challenging environment (Moursund, 1999). Learning with computers engages students because
of their inquisitive nature. Some mind tools that would aid students in project-based learning
are: spreadsheets, databases, search engines, and multimedia publishing tools.
Computer "mind tools" are computer-based tools and learning environments that were
developed or adapted to function as intellectual partners with the learner in order to engage and
facilitate higher order learning and critical thinking (Jonassen, 2000). Based on this definition,
the relevance of project-based learning employing technology is even more evident. It
encourages students to collaborate, engage in self-reflection, construct meaning, and actively
participate in the learning process. Project-based learning is an innovative curricular model that
is beneficial to students and teachers. The shift towards project-based learning reveals another
"theory of change.” However, such a change is necessary if we desire that students reach parity
with other students. Their success in the "real world" is contingent upon their ability to solve
problems, to plan, to research, and to think critically.
To add, project-based learning utilizing technology allows students to demonstrate and
utilize their diverse intelligences in different ways. Project-based learning encourages musical,
artistic, technological, language or other skills to flourish as students collaborate and develop
A successful project-based learning teacher should prepare students in necessary skills
for project-based learning groups. Probably the most important of these preparatory skills is that
of small group dynamics, including conflict resolution and role assignment. Managing students
in collaborative environments require significant preparation on the part of the teacher (Green &
Brown. Students also need at least an outline of basic problem-solving skills and brainstorming
techniques. Also, proficiency should be developed in using specific research sources, including
how to critically review all research. It is critical that teachers set clear objectives, encourage
individuals in each group to take responsibility for a certain aspect of the multimedia production,
provide opportunities for students to discuss and reflect with others, and monitor groups closely
to ensure they are on task and sharing responsibilities (Green & Brown). When technology is
involved competence should be achieved in presentation software skills (usually PowerPoint),
graphical organizer software skills (usually Inspiration), Web research techniques, and word
Learning Theories and Educational Philosophies:
Overview of Learning Theory
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different
drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” -Henry
The above quote is good advice for the education world. It is a wake up call, a reminder
that students are unique individuals. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines intelligence as,
“The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge.” Taking this definition into account the question
then becomes this, are students, as Piaget believed, a blank slate with capacity to be filled by any
means or do students have specific capacities to learn already? Is intelligence something you
acquire over time, or is something with which you are born? For the purpose of this study the
researchers believe that intelligence is innate, that the job of educators is to discover how
students are already intelligent and teach them to use their innate gifts to navigate the real-world.
According to Joseph Walters of Harvard University,
[The traditional] view of intelligence as a singular trait presents us with difficulty.
When we try to apply it to human behavior in the world, we find that many people
who display particular talents and proclivities do not “test well” on our measures
of intelligence. For example, in the Harvard Square street scene, we may find that
the backgammon player can answer certain questions on the IQ test quite
accurately but has trouble with others; the musician displays a very different
pattern of answers. In other words, we can identify talented individuals in the
world, but we do not find that the trait of intelligence, as revealed by intelligences
tests, has much to do with these talents. Indeed, when we look at the variety of
things that people can do, we begin to think that there might be more to
„intelligence.‟ (Walters, 1992, para. 8).
If this is taken into consideration, intelligence is not something that can be measured accurately
on any given standardized test. Asking students to recite information rather than show how and
what they learned, is not optimal.
In fact, research reveals that people have a multitude of instincts (Jung, 1976). These
instincts or “archetypes” drive a person from within (Jung, 1976). No instinct is more important
than another‟s but it is the body‟s preference to think rather than feel or be extroverted more than
introverted that determine each person‟s psychological type (Jung, 1976). Jung proposed that
people are not the same; their patterns in attitude are as inborn as their eye color. People,
therefore, are intelligent and creative in their own way. They desire to learn different things in
school and will in turn succeed in different kinds of work. To ignore these differences and treat
everyone the same is to stifle the individual potential of each person (Keirsey, 1998).
Taking this into consideration, Howard Gardner‟s theory of multiple intelligences is not a
new theory but instead a theory which stems from the thinkers who came before him. It is his
belief that people are intrinsically smart and it is the job of the educator to discover the kinds of
intelligence a student already possesses and cater learning to them whenever possible. In
addition, students should be exposed to all intelligences so that they can achieve rounded
excellence (Gardner, 1999). The following table by Antonio Cantu (2000) summarizes
Gardner‟s eight intelligences:
Form of Intelligence Central Components
Logical/Mathematical Discern logical or numerical patterns; deductive reasoning
Verbal/Linguistic Use written and oral language to express complex meaning
Visual/Spatial Perceive the visual world accurately; create mental images
Musical/Rhythmic Produce and appreciate forms of musical expressiveness
Body/Kinesthetic Control body movements and handle items skillfully
Naturalist Recognize patterns and distinctions in the natural world
Interpersonal Understand others; discern verbal and nonverbal cues
Intrapersonal Understand oneself; engage in self-reflection and
Visit http://mcel.pacificu.edu/ for a detailed graphic on Gardner‟s eight intelligences.
A review of relevant literature identifies how Gardner‟s Multiple Intelligences theory provides a
“model for educators to provide students with a deeper understanding” (Cantu, 2000, para. 4).
His theory also changes how teachers look at students and their potential to learn and to create.
Since students learn in different modalities, it is crucial to teach to those modalities. Gardner‟s
theory is suited to reach all students, especially those with learning disabilities, physical
impairments, or other limitations.
Hence, the learning environment must be a mini-model of the skills needed to be
successful outside the classroom. Gardner explains that learners are best served with intrinsic
motivations through student‟s pursuit of learning because it is enjoyable or rewarding. Teachers
need to create activities and lessons that allow students to engage and commit to teaching
themselves. The goal of teachers is to put students in the “flow state” as much as possible. This
means creating a space, in which an individual becomes so absorbed, so focused on an activity
that they temporarily lose track of time, space, problems, and even pain (Gardner, 2000).
Teachers desire that students actively engage in learning. Integrating technology in classrooms
encourages this type of engagement, in which students lose track of time because they are
engrossed with their projects. In order to encourage this level of engagement, teachers must
change the manner in which they teach. Teachers must create an atmosphere of student-
centered, interest driven curriculum, where students can show the teacher, and themselves, their
ability. Gardner‟s Multiple Intelligences theory supports this type of student-centered
environment through his emphasis on adapting instruction to meet varied needs of students.
Technology in Education & Learning Theories/Intelligence
While research shows that integrating technology improves learning, there are several
learning theories that bolster the positive effects of technology in the classroom. Learning is not
a simple process, but a complex one that requires analyses on various levels in order to
understand it. Several relevant learning construction theorists include, Jean Piaget, Howard
Gardner, Lev Vygotsky, and John Dewey. All of which have implications for technology in the
classroom. Constructivism, Multiple Intelligences, and Zone of Proximal Development are all
significant with regard to project-based learning using technology. Learning theory applied to
technology is in the midst of a revolution in which researchers and theorists are arguing about
what exactly it means to know and how we come to know (Jonassen & Land, 2000). This
emerging theory is called constructivism.
Constructivism proposes that students construct meaning based on experiences. How
learners construct knowledge depends upon prior knowledge of the subject, how they organized
those experiences into existing schemata and the beliefs they used to interpret events
encountered (Jonassen, 2000). A review of relevant literature reveals that teachers who rely
heavily on textbooks provide students with only one view of complex truths (Brooks, 1999).
These same teachers stress the importance of a student's ability to "demonstrate mastery of
conventionally accepted misunderstandings instead of the construction of new knowledge”
(Brooks, 1999, p. 102). Teaching with technology provides students with a broad range of
understanding. They are not targeted with a barrage of questions, and then tested on them.
However, teaching with technology allows them to view complex truths from a variety of angles.
Piaget's theory asserts, "construction is superior to instruction" (Mooney, 2000, p. 61). To
clarify, children learn by doing; they create meaning based on what is going on, rather than
receiving explanations from adults (Mooney, 2000). For example, if a teacher showed students
via projector how to conduct research on the Internet, this activity would expand their knowledge
base. In contrast, if a teacher shares information on how to conduct research on the Web, and
then takes students to the computer lab to conduct research themselves, the process of seeking,
refining, and locating information will help students construct a knowledge of how to search the
Web that they cannot achieve by watching the teacher show them how to do it. Research reveals
major differences between traditional classrooms and constructivist classrooms (Brooks, 1999).
For instance, in the traditional model students are viewed as a tabula rasa or blank slate onto
which the teacher etches information, curriculum focuses on basic skills, teachers seek correct
responses to validate student learning, assessment of learning viewed as separate from teaching
and occurs almost entirely through testing (Brooks, 1999). However, in constructivist
classrooms students are viewed as thinkers, curriculum is presented whole to part with emphasis
on big concepts, teachers seek student's point of view in order to understand their present
conceptions for use in subsequent lessons, and students work in groups (Brooks, 1999).
Constructivist theory focuses on open-ended activities that encourage higher-level thinking.
Research reveals that technology-based activities and projects are types of open-ended
activities that students need to enhance and support their cognitive development because they ask
students to think (Mooney, 2000). Armed with Piagetian theory, educators are likely to present
such content and ideas in ways that are developmentally appropriate (Gardner, 2000). Such an
approach to learning places the learner center-stage. Constructivist approaches to learning strive
to create environments in which learners actively construct their own knowledge, rather than
recapitulating the teacher's interpretation of the world (Jonassen, 2000). Piaget's theory
maintains that once students can relate to a concept, they see meaning in it and develop a sense
of ownership. This sense of ownership exudes when students are allowed to create a project that
utilizes technology, especially for students who had been withdrawn. In the constructivist
model, students take on their responsibilities in the learning process. To sum, a constructivist
framework challenges teachers to create environments that encourage students to think and
explore for themselves, rather than passively learn. This is a formidable challenge. To do
otherwise is to perpetuate the ever-present behavioral approach to teaching and learning (Brooks,
Recent research by Howard Gardner bolsters the construction theory introduced by
Piaget; however, Gardner's Multiple Intelligence‟s theory takes knowledge construction even
further. Like constructivism, Gardner's theory changes how teachers view students and their
potential to learn. His theory addresses the multiple ways of learning and understanding that
students bring with them to the classroom (Cantu, 2000). Gardner's theory hinges on a truism
that learners do not learn in the same way. In the Multiple Intelligence theory, there are several
powerful entry points to diverse concepts: narrative, numerical, logical, existential, aesthetic,
kinesthetic, and interpersonal (Gardner, 1999). These seven ways of knowing hold that
intelligence is not static. "Intelligence can be learned, taught, and developed" (Kim & Kellough,
1998, p. 76). Research reveals that when students understand this, "they tend to be more
motivated to work at learning than when they believe intelligence is a fixed entity" (Resnick &
Klopfer, 1989, p.8). In addition, students have differing learning styles. Some are aural learners,
some visual, some kinesthetic. Teachers need to modify how they teach in order to address these
divergent styles of learning. Teaching with technology touches on each of the "intelligences" or
ways of learning. When teachers properly design and implement computing and
communications in the classroom, learning improves (Dede, 1998). Gardner's entry points of
multiple intelligences encourage collaboration.
To illustrate, the interpersonal points of entry embody the need students have to learn in
the company of other students. Projects support such interpersonal entries. By participating in
engaging group projects, students have an opportunity to learn from classmates, capture their
own reactions to a topic, and make their own idiosyncratic contributions to a group effort
(Gardner, 1999). The Multiple Intelligence theory's proposal that students learn and understand
differently explains why students who learn via traditional instructional model do not appreciate,
nor understand material or concepts as deeply as students who are permitted to learn and explore
utilizing technology. Hence, effective integration of technology is conducive to learning based
on Gardner‟s theory.
Another theorist who conducted extensive research on cognition and mental processes
was Lev Vygotsky. His work focused on the development of the individual's reorganization of
lower psychological functions to form new higher ones while emphasizing that psychological
functions are themselves historical-cultural constructions (Daniels, 2000). One of the most
prominent concepts of Vygotsky's theory is the zone of proximal development, known as the
ZPD. The zone of proximal development is defined as the level at which a child is able to
perform independently and his or her ability to perform collaboratively. He believed that a child
on the edge of learning a new concept could benefit from working with another student or
teacher. The assistance provided by a classmate or teacher is referred to as scaffolding (Mooney,
2000). Vygotsky's findings reinforce project-based learning using technology because the power
of such projects lies in collaboration and scaffolding. A teacher who is skilled in developing
project-based lessons using technology can help students design projects that are consistent with
their learning abilities and interests (Moursund, 1999). Much of Vygotsky's research focused on
how school instruction provided the social and cultural context for developing higher mental
functions (Dixon-Krauss, 1996).
Hence, project-based learning using technology is rooted in Vygotskian theory. A review
of relevant literature reveals, "technology tools provided models, opportunities for higher level
thinking, and metacognitive guidance in a learner's zone of proximal development" (Jonassen &
Land 2000, p. 15). In addition, technology-based projects enable students to represent their
thinking in concrete ways and to visualize and test the consequences of their reasoning (Jonassen
& Land 2000). Vygotsky's theory encourages students to think about learning, think about
thinking, and think about their roles in the learning process. When teachers can get their students
to this level of understanding, they elevate their student's zone of proximal development.
The scaffolding referred to earlier is an aspect of Vygotsky's work that adds credence to
project-based learning using technology. To illustrate, technology based projects such as
students researching the Web can help bridge the gap between a child's actual development and
potential development. With regard to assessment, the zone of proximal development "implies a
need to design ways to evaluate student's performance while engaged in actual instructional
activities" (Dixon-Krauss, 1996, p.15). Cole and Griffin offer several aspects of Vygotsky's zone
of proximal development that clarify the role of the teacher during an instructional activity. The
teacher relinquishes role as center of attention, like in constructivist model, and allows student
"to develop novel, creative understandings and analyses during social interaction" (Dixon-
Krauss, 1996, p. 15). Piaget, Gardner, and Vygotsky's research significantly influence how
teachers teach; moreover, they provide crucial insight into how students learn.
The last contributor to learning theories is John Dewey. John Dewey's contributions to
education were deeply rooted in democratic ideals. He believed that students were innately
curious, and if given meaningful tasks, they become active problem solvers seeking to carry out
heir own purposes (Tozer, et all, 1995). Like Piaget, Gardner, and Vygotsky, Dewey believed
that students desired active engagement; they are naturally inquisitive. Children learn best when
they interact with others (Mooney, 2000). In Democracy and Education Dewey maintained that
students learn by doing. In addition, he dispelled the notion that students learn via absorption of
knowledge. They should not be spectators, but participators in the acquisition of knowledge. In
traditional classrooms, thinking is artificial because students learn what they are taught to learn
(Dewey, 1916). Effective thinking involves meaningful experiences.
Project-based learning utilizing technology encourages such thinking. It is rooted in
Dewey's philosophy, which proposes that when students are presented with a problem, and
wrestle with the problem, then they are thinking and they are learning (Dewey, 1916). Dewey
proposed this almost a century ago, yet his philosophy is extremely relevant today. In a shared
activity like a WebQuest, the teacher is a learner, and the learner is a teacher. In order to provide
students with these and other educational experiences, teachers must:
1. Have a strong knowledge base and knowledge about their students,
2. Be willing to guide students to a greater, deeper understanding based on their knowledge
3. Invest in observation, planning, organization, and documentation (Mooney, 2000).
A teacher's knowledge base, especially in the age of technology, must include understanding the
role and impact of technology in the classroom. However, in order to teach a new concept or
tool, teachers must activate and build upon student's prior knowledge.
The four learning theorists outlined above have significantly impacted how teachers
teach, and revealed how students learn. A common thread – ownership, holds all together.
When students are allowed to seek meaning on their own, the material becomes relevant. Piaget
stressed that only when students are allowed to construct meaning, they learn. The four
researchers outlined are by no means the only authorities on thinking and learning; however,
their theories reinforce the power of collaboration, project-based learning, and more importantly
technology in the classroom.
In many cases, educators must justify the use of computers, technology and its integration
into education. A review of relevant literature proposes, “that research should look at technology
not as a medium to deliver information but in the context of the learner actively collaborating
with the medium to construct knowledge” (Roblyer, 2003, p.13). There are several valid reasons
for technology-integration in education. Some of the reasons are motivation, gaining learner
attention, linking learners to learning tools and information sources, cooperative learning, and
also for problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. Students are better able to visualize
problems and solutions through the use of technology and software. Teachers are also able to
track learner progress more efficiently.
There are many ways to motivate students to learn, and technology addresses different
needs for different students, such as the cognitive, motivational and social needs of at-risk
students. Technology gains the students‟ attention while also engaging the learner through
productive work. Research shows “gaining the learner‟s attention is a critical first event in
providing optimal conditions for instruction”(Gagne, 1965, p. 60). Technology-infused lessons
encourage students to focus on the task by addressing divergent learning modalities (Pask-
McCartney, 1989). Technology also links learners directly to the information sources such as the
Internet, while also helping the learners to visualize problems and solutions. Moreover, students
are motivated by creating their own technology-based products, and feel they are in control of
their own learning (Arnone & Grabowski, 1992). This is referred to as intrinsic motivation. In
other words, students are motivated by the awareness that they are learning. “Learner control
seems to have special implications for at-risk students and others who have experienced
academic failure” (Roblyer, 1991, p.13). Technology also links learners to learning tools and to
educational sources. “Some unique affective benefits have also been observed; including
increased multicultural awareness, as students of different cultures interact online” (Roblyer,
1991, p. 12). “The engaging qualities of technology resources such as multimedia and the
Internet allow teachers to set complex, long-term goals that call for basic skills, thus motivating
students to” (Roblyer, 2003, p.13). Therefore, technology-based projects promote cooperative
learning, shared intelligences and increase problem solving and higher-order cognitive skills.
Change in the K-12 Classroom via Technology Integration
Teaching is a profession that sees change on a regular basis. It has undergone a
"paradigm shift" and is headed towards "standards alignment". The culture of school curriculum
is one of constant flux. Teachers, who are unwilling to alter their way of teaching to include
technology to help students meet these standards, are doing their students a great disservice. A
major reason for teachers' avoidance of such change is that they are not appropriately trained to
deal with it. Today, teachers are faced with the arduous task of integrating technology when they
were not taught how to, or they simply refuse to learn something new. They fail to realize that
something as simple as teaching students rudimentary keyboarding skills could help them get a
job in the future. Preservice teachers are not prepared to teach, or taught how to teach (Fullan,
2001). Research reveals the importance of redesigning teacher education programs to focus on
developing the beginners' knowledge base for making changes in the conditions that affect
teaching (Fullan, 1993). Also programs are not preparing their students for the real world
(Fullan, 1993). A change in teaching needs to occur at the preservice level. The 'knowledge
base' previously mentioned must include utilizing technology in the classroom. Teachers who
are apprehensive are either afraid of failing or are complacent or comfortable with their years of
memorized, monotonous lessons. They fail to realize that they are depriving their students of a
In Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow, researchers conducted a study that created different
forms of learning and teaching using technology, instead of having technology determine what or
how the information would be taught. In addition, the study revealed how students were more
apt to learn when allowed to collaborate as opposed to working alone (Sandholtz, et al. 1997). In
addition, teachers involved in the study had difficulty relinquishing their roles as authoritarian
and center of attention. Project-based learning using technology encourages students to become
part of a team; they learn responsibility. It also places student at the center of learning. Students
become less and less dependent upon their teachers and construct meaning on their own through
research and project development.
Teachers who are apprehensive about teaching with technology provide numerous
reasons for their uneasiness. Among these reasons are: lack of time, knowledge, training,
computers, and support. For a majority of teachers in the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow study,
time was the major issue (Sandholtz et al., 1997). It is evident that teachers have a time-intense
job, and spending hours to create, implement, and reflect upon technology-based projects and
lessons is an arduous task. In addition, teachers in the study who had basic or no knowledge
with computers became frustrated and abandoned it when they could not locate help on campus.
Again, having time to create, implement, and trouble shoot was a barrier to change for several
teachers in the study. A final barrier to change that Sandholtz discovered was limited access to
technology. Research reveals that, "although all participants had access to technology, when
they returned to their schools, many teachers complained that insufficient amounts of hardware
and software impeded their progress" (Sandholtz, et al., 1997, p. 154). While all of the above are
evident barriers to change, they are all areas within the teachers' locus of control. Regarding
training, there are numerous staff members on site who are proficient in the area of instructional
Even with computers in the classroom, teachers complained that they did not have
enough (Sandholtz, et al., 1997). There are numerous scholarly articles and books that make a
case for the one-computer classroom. A review of relevant literature reveals that enquiry-
oriented activities, such as WebQuests, are one way to approach limited computer access (Grey,
2001). With regards to the lack of time, time will always be an issue, especially with the recent
trend in education to teach to the standards. Simply wiring schools with computers and the
Internet is not the answer to bridging the digital divide. However, a change in how teachers
regard and utilize technology is necessary. There are several myths about integrating technology
that need to be dispelled. For instance, some regard the computer as a complex tool. The
computer is like any other tool. The value of it lies in how well it is used (Kleiman, 2000). The
case for computers in the classroom is bolstered by the fact that computers in the classroom:
enable teachers to vary instruction, prepare students for the workforce, encourage problem and
project-based learning and collaboration, and motivates students (Kleiman, 2000). Teachers who
care about their students must address and overcome their fears regarding technology. Teachers
and schools that do not utilize technology or project-based learning are shortchanging students
and widening, rather than bridging, the digital divide.
Teachers must take on leadership roles in order to effect change. In order for teachers to
lead in a culture of change, they must create a culture of change (Fullan, 2001). It does not mean
adopting innovations one after another; it does mean producing the capacity to seek, critically
assess, and selectively incorporate new ideas and practices-all the time (Fullan, 2001). Teachers
are leaders. Leaders are not afraid to try something new, of setting precedents. Change can
evoke ambivalent feelings from consternation, frustration, and exasperation to excitement,
empowerment, and improvement. Teachers must be risk takers; they must not be afraid of
learning in front of or alongside their students. They must be willing to show their students that
they too are learning and are not infallible, but when they make mistakes they reflect upon them
and learn from them.
Collaboration is also a catalyst for change. A review of relevant literature revealed that
change in education occurs through collaboration. When teachers collaborate, the potential for
change is greater. Such collaboration exists when there is collegiality present within a school.
Four areas that define collegiality are: when staff frequently discuss instruction, when teachers
observe each other and discuss/reflect; when teachers and administrators unite to cerate lessons,
plan assessment, design curriculum, and select materials; when ideas are shared that relate to
what is known about learning (Bernhardt, 1998). Change is a journey, and adventure that should
be faced with others who share similar experiences (Bernhardt, 1998). Although this comparison
is simplistic, it is realistic. Such change is possible when others see the value of it. Teaching
students with technology is a worthwhile journey, not only for the teacher, but especially for the
Other research bolsters the previous assertions on teachers and technology integration.
For instance, the power of project-based learning on students is evidenced by its power to
actively engage students. Specifically, project-based learning utilizing technology motivates,
encourages collaboration, and challenges students in a way that straight lecture does not
(Moursund, 1999). In addition, project-based learning using technology is designed to facilitate
learning and learning to learn. Moreover, it allows students opportunities to acknowledge and
learn from mistakes; it allows students to develop and enhance interpersonal skills, and it
provides them with opportunities to create a project of which than can be proud. Project-based
learning using technology challenges students in a way that lecture and oral discussion do not.
Teaching students how create a project using technology is not painstakingly difficult. It
simply requires teachers to spend a few hours in a meaningful staff development session learning
how to integrate technology in the classroom. In addition, there are numerous Websites, books,
and the like at their disposal. A simple starting point could be teaching students how to use
Microsoft Word. Implementing technology in the classroom is certainly within a teacher's locus
of control. Teachers who are unwilling to utilize technology, to alter their way of teaching, never
challenge students, nor do they provide their students with opportunities to learn from their
mistakes. Such a teacher is not concerned with his or her students, but complacent with their
practiced, boring, and dull lessons.
Motivation in the K-12 Classroom
“If children can be motivated to dig deeper, they soon find on their own that history is
often useful; that math is indispensable for analyzing, measuring and quantifying; that well-
honed observational skills and a repertoire of analytical tools are extremely helpful”
Dan Page (Bishop & Hirschbuhl, 2000, p.12).
Extrinsic motivation describes motivation in which actions are done for external
motivators such as rewards or avoiding punishment. Extrinsic motivators are often overused and
their effects rarely last (Mendler, 2000). Extrinsic motivators may reduce risk-taking, complex
thinking, and also lower the quality of the students‟ overall performance and behavior (Rogers,
Ludington & Graham, 1998).
In contrast, intrinsic motivation describes a desire that comes from within the student.
Students will generally work harder and are more effective when they are intrinsically motivated
than when motivated by extrinsic rewards (Kim 1995; Kohn 1993). Studies have shown a
positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and academic achievement (Kohn 1993). Some
research indicates that extrinsic rewards can negatively effect intrinsic motivation (Lumsden
1994; Mendler 2000). “All rewards have the same effect, they dilute the pure joy that comes
from success itself” (Kohn, 1993, p. 148). To increase intrinsic motivation, teachers can offer
students choices, frequent feedback, contextualized activities, high expectations without
embarrassment, and use varied and enjoyable activities that match the learning style needs and
multiple intelligences of students (Rogers, Ludington & Graham, 1998). Project-based learning
has many of these components.
Others argue that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation should not be separated. Intrinsic and
extrinsic motivators may simultaneously and positively affect behavior. For example, a student
may read a book for pleasure (intrinsic motivation) and yet also gain the teacher‟s approval
[extrinsic motivation] (Sansone & Harackiewicz, 2000). Lepper and colleagues found that
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation was not mutually exclusive, but there was a “highly significant
positive correlation between curiosity/interest and attempting to please the teacher or receive a
good grade” (Sansone & Harackiewicz, 2000, p. 275).
According to the Mathematics Framework for California Public schools (1999) in an
effective mathematics program
intrinsic motivation is fostered by helping students to develop a deep
understanding of mathematics, encouraging them to expend the effort needed to
learn, and organizing instruction so that students experience satisfaction when
they have mastered a difficult concept or skill. External reward systems are used
sparingly (p. 14).
Intrinsically motivated students are more likely to earn higher grades, are more confident in their
ability to learn, are more likely to persist, have longer retention and are more likely to be life-
long learners (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2001).
Factors that influence a student’s motivation
A major initial factor in student motivation is their home environment. When students are
raised in an environment that encourages discovery and natural curiosity, they are more likely to
have a positive view on learning (Lumsden, 1994). There is also a positive correlation between a
democratic style at home and interest in school (Stipek & Seal, 2001). Students need to feel
competent and able, which can help them cope with the challenges of learning (Lumsden, 1994).
Autonomy, responsibility, and a caring, safe environment are keys to motivating are children to
learn (Stipek & Seal, 2001).
How can we increase students’ motivation to learn?
No matter how excellent any instructional program is learning will be no greater
than the student‟s level of motivation. When motivation is low, learning is low.
That is why many of the most sophisticated and meticulously designed
instructional systems often fail to achieve desired learning results. (Spitzer, 1996,
To maximize student motivation, students should feel capable, valued, safe and secure,
happy and in “self-control” (Rogers, Ludington& Graham, 1998). Students can be highly
motivated by games and sports. Dean Spitzer analyzed the motivation factors of these activities
and applied them to the classroom.
According to Dean Spitzer (1996) the following “motivators” can create a more
motivating context for learning:
Action: Active participation
Fun: Will students enjoy the activity?
Variety: A variety of resources are used.
Choice: Can learners make choices regarding the activity?
Social Interaction: Will the learners be able to interact with each other?
Error Tolerance: How safe is the learning environment?
Measurement: Is there a positive “scorekeeping” system?
Feedback: Timely and encouraging.
Challenging: Activity must be appropriately challenging.
Recognition: Positive reinforcement.
Project-based learning infused with technology can satisfy these criteria. Teachers can
increase motivation by emphasizing effort, creating hope, building relationships and expressing
enthusiasm, but one of the most effective ways is to give power in the form of choices (Mendler,
2000). An emphasis on progress, with students self-scoring and setting goals will increase
student motivation (Joyce & Weil, 2000). Students often select the optimum appropriate
challenge, a step beyond their current ability level (Stipek & Seal, 2001). This challenge is seen
in what Lev Vygotsky defined the zone of proximal development - the “actual developmental
level as determined by independent problem solving” and the “potential development as
determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable
peers” (Wertsch, 1985, p. 67-68).
One must provide the appropriately challenging activity with scaffolding and then
withdraw the support, as the child is ready (Sansone & Harackiewicz, 2000). The challenge is to
create projects with appropriate scaffolding, or structure, without confining the student.
According to Jamie McKenzie (1999) appropriate scaffolding:
Provides clear directions.
Describes the activities purpose.
Keeps students on task.
Provides assessments such as rubrics and standards.
Directs the student to quality resources.
Reduces uncertainty and disappointment.
Engaged learners are responsible for their own learning, use problem-solving strategies,
are energized by learning and work collaboratively (National Staff Development Council, 2002).
Projects appropriately scaffolded can provide the opportunity for student learning.
Can technology play a role in increasing student motivation?
“It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet
entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry” Albert Einstein (Stipek and Seal, 2001, p 178).
Research reveals that “technology improves motivation, attitude, and interest when
students use technology applications to produce, demonstrate, and share their work with
teachers, and parents” (Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology, 2003, para. 2)
Technology integration used in conjunction with innovative ideas shows increased learning and
motivation (Sandholtz, et al., 1997). A review of relevant literature reveals that "qualitative
research on computer-rich environments has generally supported the idea that project-based
work with computers is highly engaging for students" (Becker, 2000, pages 5-17) WebQuests are
project-based activities that fit these criterions, and thus will hopefully increase learning and
Problem-Based Learning and the Role of Teachers
A review of relevant literature reveals that John Dewey (1910) believed that schools
should reflect society (Wrigley, 1998). Dewey described a new model of learning in which a
teacher provides a situation that is puzzling and asked students to solve the problems after
gathering data and testing the conclusions (Woolfolk, 1998). He called this model inquiry-
learning. In this model teachers were seen as monitors of thinking, guides of the process; they
were not to stand in front of a room and pass along information. Instead, students discovered
information through the means in which they were able. There have been many adaptations of
Dewey‟s model but at the heart of every adaptation is the same idea - students are given a goal to
meet and students find the means to meet that goal.
Inquiry or problem-based learning focuses on an approach in which students try to
acquire knowledge with scaffolded materials (Hung, 2002). Learning is scaffolded in steps
throughout this process, and the teacher provides the material to support the learning. Problem-
based learning leaves room for the ways in which students learn. Students actively involved in
both the process of creating meaning and the product, which proves, they have learned. When
using problem-based learning the following must be accounted for:
1. The problem must be presented in the same way it would be presented in reality.
2. Students must have room to use their own abilities and work at a level of learning that
is not above their zone of proximal development
3. Material must stimulate student‟s discussion, questions or issues.
4. Areas to explore must be made apparent to the learner as the progress through the
5. Learners must work cooperatively or collaboratively on a common task using both in
and out of class time. Learners must have outside access to needed information.
6. Learners must be able to label their own needs and desired resources
7. The instructor works as monitor of the student's quality of learning. Instructor must
have a full understanding of all concepts.
8. Instructor serves as a guide of critical thinking and provides limited resources.
9. Learners must be able to applied information to problem and evaluate their own
learning. (Hung, 2002)
Students must be able to learn when they need it for the situations they encounter, rather
than simply because the teacher believes it is desirable. The idea that students must create their
own meaning and learn out of necessity can be a threat to teachers who believe that students are
passive creatures to be filled with knowledge. The advantages to problem-based learning can
then be disadvantages to these instructors (Hung, 2002).
When using problem-based learning it is important to remember that the model of
curriculum uses real life problems without real structure. The problems are open-ended and
often ambiguous (Fogarty, 1997). The focus of problem-based learning is on the steps that
students took to solve the problem. The problem requires the student to gain knowledge,
question and anticipate needs and conquer the situation they encounter. Research reveals seven
key parts to problem-based learning.
1. Defining the problem:
Students take the problem at hand and put it into their own words.
2. Gathering Facts:
Students access prior knowledge to see what they already know that might be
useful to solving the problem. At this stage Multiple Intelligences are used to
relate anything they can to the problem at hand. Students need to find out first,
what they know already, what they need to know, then what they need to do.
Students also begin asking questions at this phase.
At this stage students begin creating theories or ideas as to what the answer is or
how to solve the problem.
This is the gathering section where students begin the hard work of finding
answers to their questions and hypothesizes. At this point the teacher often
provides scaffolded mini-lessons to aid students on their path.
5. Rephrasing the Problem:
As students find answers to the problem, the problem is restated and reshape for
the result they are beginning to picture in their minds.
6. Generating Alternatives:
At this phase collaboration between students is key. They must discuss all the
possibilities before they can arise on a solution.
7. Advocating Solutions:
Finally students categorize answers as, “probable, possible or preferable”
(Fogarty, 1997) before choosing the final answer they go with. When decision-
making time comes students must weigh all possibilities and go with the one they
have the most faith in (Fogarty, 1997).
Students and teachers must fulfill their roles to make this technique successful.
Problem-Based Learning Research and Case Studies
Problem-Based Learning is an instructional method approach where students are
confronted with simulated, real-world problems, and is frequently advanced as a
powerful and engaging learning strategy that leads to sustained and transferable
learning (Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer and Williams, 1990)
Educational reformers seeking to make schools and classrooms more effective
learning environments have frequently proposed restructuring traditional
curriculum and instruction to engage students in meaningful problem solving
(Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1997).
In a study comparing the effectiveness of problem-based and lecture-based instruction in
a high school genetics class, attitudes and student‟s problem-solving skills were compared.
(Visser, 2002). There were differences in motivation and also learning for the students in the two
groups. One group received the lecture/discussion treatment and the other group received the
problem-based learning treatment. The problem-based learning students reported more
confidence in their learning; however, they also reported less motivation and less learning. In a
separate study comparing two groups of students, students enrolled in the problem-based course
were found to be more proficient in problem solving and more successful than the comparison
students (Visser, 2002).
Little research has been conducted within high schools comparing the effectiveness of
problem-based learning and traditional instructional approaches. Mergendoller, Maxwell, and
Bellisimo (2000) compared the learning and attitudes of high school students studying
economics using problem-based and lecture discussion methods (Mergendoller, et al., 2000).
Maxwell and Bellisimo performed additional studies comparing the effectiveness of
problem-based instruction in 2002. A comparative study of instructional methods and student
characteristics employed a quasi-experimental design and random assignment of students to
classes. Four different high schools and five teachers participated in the study. The teachers had
been to problem-based learning economics training workshops. In addition, all of the teachers
were to use the same macroeconomics material; however, each teacher would select one class to
teach with only the lecture and discussion style of teaching. The teachers would teach the same
material to their other classes utilizing a problem style of teaching and were to spend equal
amounts of time on the concepts in both the lecture and the problem-based learning classes.
There were a total of 346 twelfth-grade students that participated in the study, and data analysis
was collected from 246 students who completed pre- and post-macroeconomics testing and
treatment. The students were pre-tested with a Likert scale on their interests in economics. The
students‟ perceptions of problem solving, discussion and negotiation were also measured with a
Likert scale. In order to test macroeconomics knowledge, a content specific test was created from
a test of economic literacy. In analyzing the pretest scores of both comparison groups, a
significant statistical difference was not seen. However, there was a significant difference
noticed when analyzing post-tests between the problem-based learning class and the
lecture/discussion classes. The problem-based learning classes taught by four of the five
teachers showed more gain than the traditional lecture classes. In addition, their analysis of the
data collected showed that the problem-research approach was more effective than the lecture
approach in learning basic macroeconomics concepts (Mergendoller, et al., 2002)
In another analysis for the same comparison groups, pre-test and post-test change was
measured by gender. The data suggested that the problem-based learning classes were more
beneficial to males, slightly. This research study showed that students‟ content learning was
greater in the problem-based class than in the traditional lecture class. The students in the
problem-based learning classes gained 4%, which equates to the difference between a grade of B
and a B+ based on the maximum score of 100%. They also noted that the students‟ test
preparation activities might also account for differences in standardized tests, rather than the
teachers‟ instruction method (Mergendoller, et al., 2002). In addition, the students‟ interest in
economics is a variable to be considered.
While PBL was more effective than lecture/discussion teaching in increasing
academic achievement, the size of this increase, although statistically
significant, was not great. (Mergendoller, et al., 2002). PBL will not drastically
increase the achievement of all students. At the same time, our data
demonstrates that it did enable the majority of students in our study to learn
more.” (Mergendoller, et al., 2002)
The Role of Teachers in Project-based Learning, and Case Studies
When it comes to teaching, teachers engage in monotonous lecturing and testing and
totally avoiding integrating technology because of trepidation, fear of failing. These fears can be
assuaged if teachers find support, someone with whom they can collaborate. Likewise, when
students face problems, having someone with who to share is critical. Research shows that
collaborative discussions are primarily conversational, and of course, cooperative in nature, with
individuals contributing to the discussion (Jonassen, 2000). The role of teachers in a project-
based learning atmosphere is that of facilitator. Teachers are still in control of the class;
however, they relinquish their cherished position as center of attention, and allow students to
learn via discovery. "What is most significant about this combination of learning processes is
the level of ownership that students feel when they are in control of the discussion" (Jonassen,
2000, p.12). Students need guidance through this process. As mentioned earlier in this review,
teachers enjoy being the center of attention. Many believe that teaching is telling. Students in
these traditional classrooms are not encouraged to be autonomous, critical, and analytical
thinkers. They do not learn how to problem solve, nor do they learn how to be risk takers. For
some teachers, teaching students to search rather than follow is arduous and frightening (Brooks,
1999). Even more arduous and more frightening for teachers would be the integration and
implementation of technology.
However, research reveals numerous benefits for teachers that use project-based learning
using technology. For instance, it is designed so that the teacher will be a learner, too. Project-
based learning utilizing technology actively engages all students and encourages collaboration.
Also, it requires students to conduct research that draws on multiple sources of information.
Regarding assessment, overall assessment of students' work is authentic. Finally, project-based
learning using technology emphasizes higher-order thinking skills (Moursund, 1999).
The role of teachers is that of learner. This aspect of project-based learning is powerful
because it reveals that the teacher values learning. It also aids student because on why teachers
should integrate technology-based projects, the Education for All Handicapped Act, also known
as Public Law 94-142 mandates that all handicapped or disabled students receive a free and
appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. In fact, all students are entitled to a
free and developmentally appropriate education in the United States. Hence, having students
create technology-based projects such as iMovies, PowerPoint presentations, newsletters, Web
sites, and the like, address students' divergent learning modalities. There are several purposes for
using such projects in the classroom. A significant purpose for integrating projects in the
classroom is that by considering and accommodating individual interests, learning styles, and life
experiences, personal meaning to learning can be optimized (Kim & Kellough, 1998). When
integrating projects that utilize technology, teachers must keep in mind that they are facilitators
and mentors. Project-based learning eliminates the 'talking-head' at the front of the classroom,
and focuses on the learner. However, the teacher is still in charge and "bears the responsibility
for curriculum, instruction, and assessment" (Moursund, 1999, p.18). Shifting from instruction to
construction requires the teacher to relinquish role as lecturer, to become reflective, to become a
learner, and to guide students in the discovery process.
To assuage some of the fears that teachers have regarding using project-based learning
utilizing technology, teachers should have professional/staff development sessions that focus on
specific areas. In addition, administrators should set aside common planning time for just that –
common planning. During this time, teachers could collaborate, reflect, and discuss frustrations
A significant amount of research has been conducted that supports project-based learning.
Most of the results portrayed resulted in positive benefits in the learning environments. Project-
based learning seems to be very effective for procedures such as problem solving and decision-
making skills, especially when the project chosen is one with which students can relate.
Defining features of project-based learning include authentic content, authentic assessment,
teacher facilitation but not direction, explicit educational goals, (Moursund, 1999) cooperative
learning, reflection, and incorporation of adult skills (Diehl, et al., 1999). There is a vast range
of features for the project-based learning model; this resulted in many types research. Some of
the analyzed research was conducted at the secondary level with projects that involve students in
a constructive process that is tied in to the curriculum. Other studies that incorporate curriculum
through project-based learning show definite, positive benefits for students. In many of the
research cases, the project-based learning students showed more productive projects, and
performed better than the comparison students. In addition, the project-based learning students
worked individually and cooperatively, and used critical thinking to solve problems more
efficiently (Thomas, 2000).
A review of literature reveals that there is much research on project-based learning.
However, the research is limited because it does not reflect a common model of project-based
learning (Thomas, 2000). In addition, many teachers felt that their limited experience with
project-based learning made teaching it more stressful and demanding (Thomas, 2000)
According to a study reported by Penuel and Mean (2000), the study
incorporates real-world, student directed projects and a combination of project-
specific performance tasks. The study, conducted by SRI International, reports
evaluation of the Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project in California‟s Silicon
Valley. Students worked on different projects and presented work at Multimedia
Fairs. SRI staff gave students additional projects to assess effectiveness of their
PBL experiences. Students in the PBL and comparison classes developed
brochures. The PBL students outperformed comparison students on all measures.
A study reveals that students that of students who created projects, 93% of students
agreed that creating projects increased their interest in the topics and 82% of students concurred
that creating projects was motivational (Bartscher, et al., 1995). In another study high school
students who participated in a project approach in a Humanities course indicated that learned
literacy skills from the course (Peck, et al., 1998).
In another research study of project-based learning and effectiveness, researchers
reported survey results from 21 teachers from six schools (Becker, et al., 1999). The schools
were participating in a technology and project-based reform effort called Co-NECT. Teachers
from the Co-NECT schools, stated more frequent use of computers, more use of various software
programs, more Internet projects, and more constructivist student activities (Becker, et al., 1999).
Tretten and Zachariou (1995) conducted a project-based learning assessment and
according to teachers‟ reports, project-based learning activities had positive benefits for students.
These benefits included positive attitudes towards problem solving, increased self-esteem and
improved work habits.
Students, working both individually and cooperatively, feel empowered when they use
effective work habits and apply critical thinking to solve problems by finding or creating
solutions in relevant projects. In this productive work, students learn and/or strengthen their
work habits, their critical thinking skills, and their productivity. Throughout this process
students are learning new knowledge, skills and positive attitudes.” (Tretten & Zachariou, 1995,
Another significant study conducted by Turner and Spencer (1997), of Pennsylvania State
University, took fourteen fifth and sixth graders, seven girls and seven boys in a project-based
learning math class to determine how challenge seekers vs. challenge avoiders handle project-
based learning. These fourteen students were of average ability and chosen by the teacher at
random. The means of collecting data were surveys before and after the project in addition to
interviews with the students. Students in a geometry class were required to build a kite to find
out what makes it aerodynamic. The researchers discovered that eight were challenge seekers
and six were challenge avoiders. Seven of the eight challenge seekers were female. This
brought in gender implications on which the researchers had not planned.
Turner and Spencer chose project-based learning because they felt that complex problems
could cause students to learn due the fact knowledge must be presented uniquely. Students also
interact with real problems and use this problem solving to present and end product to the class
(Turner & Spencer, 1997). This leaves great potential for project-based learning to help student
achievement. However they feel the projects can also frustrate the learner into searching for
another path to follow, avoiding the project all together or doing it with resistance. They found
that, typically, challenge seekers prefer difficult work and challenge avoiders have a low
tolerance for failure. Turner and Spencer‟s findings reveal that creating a classroom that
supports mastery learning helps students get over their fear of failure. This study reveals the
importance of aligning instructional goals with learning goals (Turner & Spencer, 1997).
Another similar study focused on two schools in England. In one class students were
taught with textbooks and tested often. In the second class, students were given open-ended
projects and discipline was relaxed in comparison (Boaler, 1999). Students at the first school
performed well on tests but seemed to only be able to apply knowledge to textbook-like
examples. They were unable to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. The students at
the second school, although they were not “work-oriented”, got higher grades than those at the
first school (Boaler, 1999). At both schools student earned similar grades on tests but those at the
project-based learning school retained what they had learned, while those at the textbook school
forgot (Boaler, 1999).
Further research studied the process of five teachers incorporating project-based learning
into their science classrooms (Blumenfeld, et al.1994). In the beginning the teachers found it
difficult to express their concerns about what project-based learning would do to their
classrooms. However, the researchers strove to create a community feeling and the teachers
began sharing their concerns. They were concerned with equipment they were taught to use and
how to implement it in the classroom. In addition, they were concerned, like most teachers using
technology that on the day of execution the equipment would not work. Also, teachers felt as
though there was never enough time because as students would get into a project, the bell would
ring. Furthermore, in the beginning teachers found that students had trouble working
independently and wanted answers given to them instead of searching and discovering.
However, as the teachers learned better scaffolding techniques, they became happy with the
results. They found that the most effective use of project-based learning was when their
classrooms were centered on a driving question. The learning that occurred was directly
proportional to the quality of this question (Blumenfeld, et al., 1994).
A final case study on project-based learning hinged upon teachers using a series called
“The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury,” which ideally promoted problem solving and problem-
posing scenarios in the geometry classroom. Students were faced with a situation that Jasper had
encountered and had to work to help get him out of it. Solving the problem usually took about
thirty minutes per class and teachers often tried to extend the lesson learned into other areas of
thinking. Researchers found that the series worked because math achievement was often a
product of how the student feels about math in the first place. The Jasper students seemed less
anxious about math and were able to connect math to the everyday world (Vanderbilt University,
Throughout the research, students seemed to benefit in a positive way, with productive
results from their project-based learning activities. In addition, combining those activities with
technology promoted cooperative learning, shared intelligences and increased problem solving
and higher order skills. Project-based learning combined with technology was able to gain the
students attention while also engaging them through productive work.
WebQuests in the Classroom-Impact on Students
“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember. I do and I understand” (Confucius)
In 1995 Bernie Dodge and Tom March of San Diego State University created a new way
of teaching which involved a “quest” on the Web in which students, “were presented a scenario,
and a task, usually a problem to solve or a project to complete using the available Web
resources” (Yoder, 2002, para. 4). These new strategies are called “WebQuests”. At this time
computers were becoming a trend in the classroom, but educators were realizing merely teaching
Microsoft Office was not enough (Aldridge, 2002).
A WebQuest as defined by Bernie Dodge (2002) is
an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information
used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuest are designed to
use learner‟s time well, to focus on using information rather than
looking for it, and to support learners‟ thinking at levels of analysis,
synthesis, and evaluation. (Dodge, 1995, para. 2)
WebQuests are unique in their ability to provide structure for both the teacher and student. For
instance, WebQuests "target the higher levels of thinking and usually only require a computer
one per every three-four students rather than one per student because of this, teachers do not
mind putting in the effort to use them" (Dodge, 2002, para. 3).
There are two kinds of WebQuests: short and long. Short WebQuests take about one to
three class periods and are designed to help students sift through a lot of new information and
slowly figure out meaning (Dodge, 1995) Long WebQuests in contrast, usually take anywhere
between a week and a month to complete.
After completing a long WebQuest, a learner would have analyzed a
body of knowledge deeply, transformed it in some way, and
demonstrated an understanding of the material by creating something
that others can respond to, online or off-. (Dodge, 1995., para. 4)
The main difference in the two types is that in the short term WebQuest students do not have an
end project to the magnitude of the long term one. For example, students can do a WebQuest
about dinosaurs to learn more about dinosaurs in general by answering specific questions and
hunting for answers. The end product is not just the answers, but knowledge gained through
active, engaged discovery. That same class could have instead completed a similar WebQuest
but instead of answering questions, they could be guided to bring back a certain number of
dinosaurs, plants and explain possible ways to avoid extinction again based on existing ideas.
Both have results of the learning but the depth of the long term one is greater.
All WebQuests follow a particular organizational structure. This structure or formula is
Introduction- orient and capture interest of learner
The Task- describes the product a learner should have upon completion
The Process- explains how learners should complete the task, strategies
The Resources- the sites on the web learners should use
The Evaluation- measures the results of the activity, how will they be assessed?
The Conclusion- sums up the activity and tries to get learners to reflect on the process
they used and the end results.
An example of a WebQuest about how to create a good WebQuest is at the following address:
http://edweb.sdsu.edu/webquest/webquestwebquest-es.html To create WebQuests Tom March
provides the following links:
A review of relevant literature reveals “the key element of a great WebQuest is a great
task” (Dodge, 1995, para 24). One must have a meaningful task to propel students to higher
level thinking. WebQuests are powerful teaching and learning tools that allow the teacher to
observe students as they locate, analyze, manipulate, and create.
In terms of WebQuests as a project-based learning tool, how do they benefit students?
When thinking about using the Internet in the classroom most teachers immediately cringe.
They see their students being thrown to the wolves in a sea of information in which much of the
information is unreliable. Using the Web for some appears to be just and extension of the
library, in which reports on bugs, presidents and other things are written, presented, and easily
forgotten? (Dodge, 1995.)
Five things make learning in a WebQuest possible when in mere research they do not. The
mnemonic for this information is FOCUS.
1. Find great sites:
a. If students have the sites given to them ahead of time this solves the unreliability
issue. Students will be so busy working they will not have time to get off track
and visit sites that are unhelpful.
b. Use top internet search engines like Google with students so they can learn to
weed out the information that is not helpful.
c. Have one of your first WebQuests be one on creating rubrics to grade potential
websites so students learn to see quality on the web.
d. Teachers present good resources and teachers get good results.
e. Bookmark everything you find that is good so you do not loose it, who knows
when you might want to use it again.
2. Orchestrate your learners and resources.
a. Be creative about managing your resources.
i. One computer can lead a class discussion on a projector or television
ii. 1-10 computers can be useful for group WebQuests and a learning place
where students rotate on and off line resources in individual WebQuests
iii. if only a lab is available Xerox many sites and pieces of information to use
in the classroom so that students use lab time to get essentials they
couldn‟t find off line
iv. if there is no web access great a floppy or CD-ROM of hard copied sites
that the teacher can load onto each computer to use.
b. Create a cooperative learning environment by promoting the following:
i. A space where students feel the need each other to succeed
ii. Students help those who need help and can compliment each other when
they figure problems out
iii. Hold the group accountable for the entire task, but individuals reliable for
iv. Teach them how to work together, this is not innate
v. Teach them how to talk to each other about how well they are doing as a
group and what needs help
3. Challenge Your Learners to Think
a. Create a WebQuest that pushes students in their zone of proximal development.
b. Let students struggle a little but have work be one step beyond them but not one
step out of reach.
c. Let students see the world through multiple lenses, do not force them to
necessarily take a stand. If they want to take a stand based on these lenses they
can on their own. This is not a controversial issue paper.
4. Use the Medium
a. Use the web to the best of it‟s ability
i. Realize the web is made by real people with real voices
ii. Realize the web is a place of conversation and opinion not just research
iii. Take advantage of authentic pieces of information, or nuggets on the web.
The web is becoming more and more like television.
5. Scaffold High Expectations
a. Don‟t be afraid to ask students to look at things they might not normally look at
b. Remember scaffolding allows students to see they are more skilled then they think
i. Put students in touch with resources they have never seen before
ii. Let students transform read material into a new form
iii. Let students produce things they never have before (Dodge, 1995)
Interestingly, students often learn by accident; it is the process that allows students to learn. The
product is merely recognition of this learning.
Research demonstrates that “students usually become so busy with the task at hand that
they have no time for indiscriminate Web Surfing” (Yoder, 2002, para. 4). This means that
students are put into that “flow state” discussed earlier where the student temporarily loses track
of time, space, all concerns, and even physical pain (Gardner, 2000). This level of engagement
is what teachers seek and can be brought about through project-based learning using technology,
such as WebQuests.
Those who oppose WebQuests are those who teach to the standardized test. However,
they fail to see the important skills that students are taught as they engage in WebQuests..
WebQuests can teach test-taking skills. Currently, much of what happens in schools is driven by
standardized tests. But at the same time, teachers are asked to prepare our students for a world
that looks nothing like fill-in-the-blank tests. It takes one truly gifted teacher to not only prepare
their students for these tests but the real world as well. A benefit of WebQuests is that not only
is the task usually a real world problem, but students, as they complete the process, can discover
information and strategies to do a better job on test taking days, such as eliminating invalid
information or answers. This can be shown through giving students pretests and posttests to see
if they are acquiring the test standards in addition to completing the end product.
Tom March, co-founder of WebQuests, also shows important reasons why WebQuests
have a positive impact on students. He explains that as teachers we often hear the phrases,
“critical thinking, cooperative learning, authentic assessment, and technology integration. You
may have even bumped into cognitive psychology with its schema theory, scaffolding…and
constructivism” (March, 1998, para. 8). March explains that the beauty of WebQuests is that
they are designed to take on all these theories into one effective student activity (March, 1998).
WebQuests also increase student motivation. Students who are motivated are more alert
and therefore can easily make more connections. In a WebQuest students have to be alert to get
from the beginning to end, in this manner, WebQuests encourage motivation. In addition,
students are more motivated because instead of using textbooks, which can never stay current,
old encyclopedias and the like, students are connected to up-to-date search engines and
databases. Another positive aspect of WebQuests is that they actively engage students in the
lesson in form of collaborative groups. Students have specific roles in cooperative groups.
Hence, they will be motivated because they know their group is depending on them (March,
1998). A review of relevant literature reveals “as students complete more WebQuests they will
become increasingly aware that their individual work has a direct impact of the intelligence of
their groups final product” (March, 1998, para. 17). Moreover, because the final products can be
posted or presented to real people, it inspires students to be motivated to do the best job they can
rather than just finish the assignment (March, 1998).
A WebQuest is a style of teaching that does not allow students to collect and memorize
information and recite it back to the teacher (March, 1998). However, students must make a real
commitment to learning. A teacher‟s main goal is to stop watering down curriculum or giving
students all the steps to solving a problem. Allowing students to grapple with the problem,
enhances critical and higher-order thinking skills. Students struggle, fill in gaps for themselves,
and seek guidance from the teacher, not the answers.
The following is an Action Research Project in which Terri Burke and Sharmaine Grove
took all the research compiled for this paper and applied it to their classrooms to explore the
results of project-based learning using WebQuests on their students.
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