11 Steps Of Effective Project-Based Learning In A Blended Classroom

11 Steps Of Effective Project-Based Learning In A Blended Classroom

Student-to-Material Interaction: Effective PBL Learning In The Online Or Blended Classroom

In part 1 of this 6-part series, Thomas Stanley looked at an overview of blended learning, specifically the critical interactions of a blended learning model. In part 2, he looked specifically at student-to-student interaction, and the reality of synchronous and asynchronous access. In part 3, he looked at student-to-teacher interactions, and moving from instruction to becoming the “guide on the side,” and in part 4 he explored the idea of student-to-community interactions. Below in part 5, Stanley examines Student-to-material interactions as part of the blended learning model, specifically the process of project-based learning in a blended classroom.

What is the most effective way to get students to grapple with the subject matter? How can students be held accountable for their work? How can the synchronous and asynchronous technologies best be used to help students understand the different levels of learning? What does it take to make students accountable for their ideas and the information they are required to learn too? One of the best methods of teaching, using online learning, is for students to do inquiry or project-based learning that empowers them to come up with their own facts, ideas, and conclusions. By making the classroom a cross-curricular event the students learn many of the practical skills they will need to have in education or business.

The projects should be designed to meet state and local standards. When you combine the material, the use of experts, the ability of the student to post/defend/expand on his/her ideas, to present these ideas in a real-world context and then go back and re-evaluate his/her effort, it is one of the most powerful learning adventures in any classroom. The online world gives students an access they have never had before to accomplish this. As teachers we need to think of taking the material a student must learn and asking him/her to apply it, by using technology, to critically think and then apply that thinking to a real-world situation.

To develop PBL online lessons a teacher may have to create a theme or allow the students to choose a topic. There are a number of wonderful tools that are great guides for online inquiry or problem-based lessons. The key to doing these activities is how do you do them so that you end up with a quality product? If the student knows the essentials of critical thinking, how to research, and what the grading rubric will be before undertaking the project, it helps facilitate a quality project.

Here is one example of how to integrate synchronous, asynchronous, and real-time activities in an online lesson. The program I like to use is called the 11 Steps to Action that I modified from the following website: (http://www.tolovechildren.org/children/ten_steps.htm)

  1. Define the problem and identify the information needed and find collaborative partners.
  2. Identify Information Seeking Strategies; find the most appropriate source(s).
  3. Locate and access information.
  4. Extract the relevant information.
  5. Synthesize all information.
  6. Evaluate the results of research.
  7. Communicate the information.
  8. Take appropriate action.
  9. Present program to teacher and classmates.
  10. Present program to identify collaborative partners.
  11. Assess action taken.

Implementing The Project-Based Learning Approach

To effectively use each of these steps in the online world, students must be evaluated by the instructor, other students, and subject area experts all along the way.

You can start by introducing the information in the synchronous world and/or recording something for students to listen to (i.e. podcast) before they start the project. Post the information ahead of time in your asynchronous content manager (i.e. WebCT, Blackboard.) and include your rubrics/expectations.  I prefer to use the synchronous world to introduce the topic so that the students can ask questions. Each of the following steps is worth different points and have definitive due dates:

Steps                                                                                    Suggested Technological tools

Step 1

Define the problem and identify the information needed.


  • Choose a topic and subtopic
  • Find a topic that interests you personally.
Email instructor;Use discussion with synchronous tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc.

Step 2

Identify Information Seeking Strategies.


  • What is my hypothesis? (Set up a hypothesis, chose a topic, and develop some resources.)
  • What steps do I see as a part of my investigation? (Personally gain background information on your topic through independent research.)
  • Keep a careful log of your research? (Dates, observations, results.)
  • What outside resources do I need to use? Which ones have I added during the investigation? (Choose at least 3 legitimate outside sources.)
WebCT Discussion Area;Individual evaluations from teacher using Synchronous tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc. 

Step 3

Locate and access information.


  • Identify and meet with experts on your topic.
  • Write your analysis of the topic. What effects and impact do I see as a result of this investigation or activity? (Choose a few subtopics, create questions about your topics and their effects, and use that as a framework of what to research.)
WebCT Discussion Area:Email and Synchronous tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc.

 Step 4

Extract Relevant information.


  • Write a 3 to 4-paragraph summary of your work for the project-based learning newsletter.
  • Prepare the general information for a Web-based newsletter – techno-summary, video, audio, Web-file, or PowerPoint.
 Email your instructor- to be posted on the wiki.
  • Prepare the general information for  the blog that includes the following: webpages, podcast, and/or PowerPoint presentations.
  • Plan your social media campaign.


Webpage or PowerPoint;Email to Instructor;Synchronous presentation using tools such as Illuminate, Centra, Skype, etc.

Step 5

Synthesize information.


  • Determine what course of action you need to take based on your research. Seek out, through this class, and contact a professional in your field of study.

For example:

  • What laws/court cases impact your work?
  • What laws/court cases are needed to support my findings?
  • What is the appropriate public information/awareness campaign I need to take on my topic?
  • Are there any agencies, organizations, or businesses that you need to contact for information or action on your topic? Contact and meet with these organizations.
LMS Discussion Area;Document all contacts’ information. 

Step 6

Evaluate the results of research.


  • Finish the organization of your information/research so that you can finalize your presentation/activity.
LMS Discussion Area;Post final information approvedon wiki.

Step 7

Communicate the information.


  • Present your program to your peers for initial review.
Synchronous tools and blog.

 Step 8

Take appropriate action.


  • Create an action plan that includes a timeline for execution.
LMS Discussion Area;Post on wiki.

Step 9

Finalize your information/project for the final presentation with your teacher.Email final presentation to teacher;Use wiki system to store and gather final information.

Step 10

Present your final program/activity to the appropriate groups.Face-to-face or Synchronous online presentation.

Step 11

Assess your course of action, presentation, and the need for possible further action on your topic.Online – Survey and/or in-class evaluation.


This type of project can take from two to five weeks to do in the online world. However, it is well worth the time and energy that is required of the student and teacher.

A friend of mine once said to me that online education should be down and dirty, give the students the essentials, make sure they understand it, and then move on to the next bit of information. It is not a bad way to teach and learn, and most students in high-level classes appreciate your not “wasting their time.” But is this “down and dirty” academic atmosphere the best way to train students for the skills that they will need in the 21st Century?