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Web Projects: Web Publishing as a Project-Based Learning Activity

Web Publishing as a Project-Based Learning Activity

A student in my class today ran across a student's Web page from a few months ago, which gives information about places for the homeless to get help with food, clothing, shelter, etc. My student said, "This is exactly what I have been looking for!" and printed it out for a friend who has been having trouble. It seemed like a perfect example of a student using the technology to share the knowledge that he already had, information that I would never have been able to give.

-- Eric Appleton, Computer and Literacy Teacher at the Fortune Society in New York City

Computer and Internet technology in adult basic education (ABE) is often used as essentially a one-way content delivery system. Educational content is pushed out to the learner—via video, Web, or software—and the learner accesses it. So-called drill and kill software is often cited as the quintessential example of this type of learning.

Learners may very well see improvement when using technology in this manner. And yet much of the educational research literature today argues that greater learning progress occurs when technology is paired with instructional strategies like project-based learning, which actively engages students in more intellectually complex work that demands higher-order thinking and relevant, real-life problem-solving skills.

Proponents argue that project-based learning has particular promise in adult basic education because its emphasis on real-life problem-solving supports certain key characteristics of adult learning. For example, adult learners are thought to be motivated to learn by their own needs and interests, to center their learning around their day-to-day lives and prior experience, and to prefer self-directed kinds of learning activities. If you are a teacher, and these characteristics seem to apply to many in your classroom, a project-based learning activity may be appropriate. What kind of technology- assisted project-based learning activities make sense in the adult literacy classroom?

One answer might be to connect project-based learning to an activity that supports underserved communities to develop meaningful content for the Web. The lack of meaningful online content for underserved communities was well documented by an influential Children's Partnership report in 2000. Their report cited significant lack of meaningful Web content for large numbers of Americans, including a lack of local community information, a lack of information written at lower literacy levels and in non-English languages, and a lack of cultural diversity.

During [our] project, students read and assessed other Web sites, read and peer-revised each other's writing, and used writing and e-mail to communicate their ideas and thoughts. All of this literacy work was done for a purpose the students had decided upon, designed, and implemented.

--Maura Donnelly,
former adult literacy teacher at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York

Many people attending ABE programs across this country are among those affected by this information gap. A Web site project might offer a way for these individuals to address this problem by building their own online resources that reflect their own communities, cultures, and interests. Finally, a Web site project also can be used to enrich and strengthen real-life information technology (IT) skills, as well as the real-life “soft” skills (communication, working as team, etc.) that are valued in the workplace.

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Last Updated October 23, 2003