Project Based Learning

  • PBL Students
  • PBL Students
  • PBL students

Overview of Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is a course assignment where students work for an extended amount of time investigating a real-world problem within the context of the course material. Projects can be conducted within the context of the course such as engineering an object, building an art project or directing or short video. Projects are also a way to make partnerships with community partners allowing students to experience real-world application of their work. Course projects are a great way for students to get hands-on experience, solve problems, work with fellow students, and showcase their accomplishments by giving talks, presenting posters, making videos or creating websites. Here are links to some websites and a couple of good articles that can be helpful in incorporating project-based learning into a course or program.

How it works

There is a lot of flexibility in creating a project assignment, but here is a helpful outline:

  1. Educate: Students research the topic. Why is the project important? What other work has been done? This could be a short literature review.
  2. Design an action plan and make a proposal: Students describe in detail their plans for completing their project and submit a proposal.
  3. Taking Action: Students keep an accurate log of the work and progress of their project including on-going reflections.
  4. Showcasing: There are a number of ways to showcase the work on projects. Here are some possibilities:
    • Web page:Students have access to Google Sites through Fresno State but other free web platforms are Weebly.comWix.com.
    • ePortfolio: Fresno State currently uses Pathbrite, which is a nice way to display a student's best work. 
    • Talks: Group talks using PowerPoint or Prezi are a good opportunity for students to talk with other students about their work. A fun style of giving a talk is called Pecha Kucha where a presentation is given as 20 slides each automatically progressing every 20 seconds. 
    • Posters: A poster session at the end of the semester is a great way for students to interact with other students and faculty and share their project. 
  5. Reflection: It is highly suggested that students are encouraged to reflect on the project throughout the semester. Writing prompts should be given to students and could including the following questions:
    • What have you and your group members accomplished?
    • What has worked and what has not?
    • What would you change going forward?
    • How has this project helped you understand the material in the class? 

Helpful Resources and Links

Buck Institute for Education (BIE): This website is dedicated to project-based learning at all levels.  It has great resources including blogsarticlesvideos and archived webinars.

Why We Changed Our Model of the "8 Essential Elements of PBL."  This is an article by BIE that explains the 8 most important elements (see image below) when creating a Project-Based Learning assignment. 

PBL is Making Headway in Higher Education by Scott Wurdinger (2016). This article is on the BIE blog page and focuses on project-based learning in higher education. 

Project Based Learning in Higher Education.  This an article from Sam Houston State University and focuses on the college experience and project-based learning.  

Student Stories

PBL Zoo studentsHere is an example of a group of students doing a project in the course Psychology 173: Environmental Psychology (A DISCOVERe tablet course). For this project, students assigned themselves to one of seven projects related to human behavior and the environment. In one group, four students and their instructor met with the director of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to discuss conducting a survey to look at the views that people have of zoos and the roles that zoos play in a community. The survey also asked questions concerning people's views of nature, sustainability, and environmental protection. The survey was available on Qualtrics and students visited the zoo on several occasions to collect data from people using their tablets. The student found this experiment very enjoyable and meaningful, and the zoo was grateful for the data that was collected. All students were required to give an oral presentation about their project, and this group created a presentation on Prezi (click here).  Students made a Facebook page to share their experiences and recruit people to the survey (click here).  The group also created a web page highlighting their experiences (click here).  

How to get involved

For more information on project-based learning contact Martin Shapiro in the Department of Psychology. mashapiro@csufresno.edu