In some ways, I am working backwards in this course. Early in the semester, I fell dreadfully behind -- in part because of a family emergency that took me out of state and completely through my routine into chaos, and in part because I was so paralyzed by the Minecraft aspect of the course that I honestly didn't know how to proceed with some of the assignments. As I have observed, dabbled in Minecraft, received some tutorial assistance from middle school students, and read my #diffimooc colleagues' posts, I have slowly come to "get it." (Slowly.) I didn't create a diffi-tool for Givercraft; after all, the entire project was connected to Minecraft, and since I knew nothing (less than nothing?!) about Minecraft, how in the world could I contribute? Conversations with a teacher whose students participated in the Givercraft project, and casual chats with a few of the students themselves, helped me understand that one important tool is not necessarily for the students themselves, but for their parents. Parents need to understand what PBL is all about and how it benefits their students. They also need resources that help them see what a PBL experience will mean for their students.
As teachers prepare for PBL experiences in their classrooms, the assessment piece must be front-and-center ... and it cannot be an afterthought! I love what Timperley has to say about assessment: "Without the mindset that evidence is for improvement purposes, the evidence tends to remain in filing cabinets, computers and other places at a great psychological and emotional distance from what is actually happening in the classroom" (p. 2). If assessment checkpoints have been embedded throughout a learning experience, parents will feel more confident that the project is legitimate, the learning is rigorous, and the outcome will be worthwhile.
The U.S. Department of Education report (2013) states, "There is a trade-off between having enough past use of a digital learning resource to have generated strong evidence of effectiveness and the extent to which the intervention is new and potentially transformational. ... If digital learning resources are implemented only when confidence levels are high, technology innovation may never occur in education" (p. 4). The Givercraft experience and observation made by the classroom teacher is a perfect example. There is not a huge amount of research demonstrating that using a game like Minecraft to teach about a novel and literary elements is effective; however, if the teacher would have waited until the data was there to back up his decision to participate, his students would have missed out on an incredible experience to learn.
"As students are responsible for their own learning in PBL setting, students learn self-reflection where they become proficient in assessing their own progression in learning and also peer-assessment on how to effectively provide constructive feedback to their peers" (Tai and Chan, p. 983). The power of projects like Givercraft, for example lies in the opportunities they provide for students to learn ... and to learn about how they learn, as well as to teach their peers, which results in another kind of learning.
Timperley (2010) writes, "Creating the kinds of conditions in schools in which teachers systematically use evidence to inform their practice for the benefit of students requires that they teach in contexts in which such practice becomes part of the organizational routines" (p. 8). This evidence comes from both formative and summative assessments. For educators to have a complete picture of student learning, the evidence must be gathered and reviewed across time, and it must be varied. "Informal evidence collected by teachers as they observe students and mark their work can be just as powerful in this process as formal assessments" (Timperley, p. 4).
Macdonald's (2005) section on "Thinking Strategically About Assessment" provides a great list of questions and recommendations that prompt careful consideration of the why, when, and how of assessment. Similarly, the list of assessment tools and types is interesting and would certainly be a great resource for educators to reference frequently as they design courses, units, and daily instruction. Perhaps these lists and reminders/recommendations are most significant for educators who have been at it for a while and have "standard" assessment practices that they use again and again, at the expense of providing students with alternative means of demonstrating their learning. Macdonald notes, "There may be a lot of 'un-learning' and letting go to be done by both students and tutors before there is genuine alignment of assessment with the learning goals and principles and practices of enquiry and Problem-based learning" (p. 92).
Boss, S. (17 Oct 2014). Time to debunk those PBL myths. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/time-debunk-those-pbl-myths-suzie-boss
Edutopia. (25 June 2014). Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning. YouTube video. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/video/five-keys-rigorous-project-based-learning
Macdonald, R. (2005). Chapter from Handbook of Enquiry & Problem Based Learning. Barrett, T., Mac Labhrainn, I., Fallon, H. (Eds). Galway: CELT, 2005. Released under Creative Commons licence. Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0. Some rights reserved. Retrieved from http://www.nuigalway.ie/celt/pblbook/chapter9.pdf
Tai, G, and Chan, M. (2007). Authentic Assessment Strategies in Problem Based Learning. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/singapore07/procs/tai.pdf
Timperley, H. (2010). Using Evidence in the Classroom for Professional Learning. Paper presented to the Ontario Research Symposium. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Pedagogy-and-assessment/Evidence-based-leadership/Data-gathering-and-analysis/Using-evidence-in-the-classroom
U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology. (2013). Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/files/2013/02/Expanding-Evidence-Approaches.pdf
Vega, V. (3 Dec 2012). Project-Based Learning Research Review. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-learning-outcomes