Is PBL the better Flipped Classroom?

Background: I was very fortunate to have been at a school ten years ago where the boss introduced PBL (project based learning) following his sabbatical trip the USA.

Despite head-office skepticism, he pushed the agenda along, finding funds to send a few of us to some heavy-duty training in the USA. They furnished us with a US-Model of PBL, which we then set about adapting towards the AU system. It radically changed the school and the learning. This was one man willing to look at a new idea, but encountering many in the process. History represents this as an Institution system initiative, but that as anyone who was there will tell you — that’s just politiks — it was a smart leader who had a vision. As I’m also a designer and also teach arts and industrial tech … the rhetorical depiction of the ‘traditional classroom’ never lent itself to my experience, so for me PBL was a welcome extension of what I was already doing … and even now game-based learning is a step beyond PBL.

More recently, I’ve heard “Flipped Classrooms” being dragged out as “innovation”. This seems often to be on the basis of a “new-broom leader” trying to impress, rather than assuming all classrooms are chalk and talk. In fact, many of these depictions simply show these people are more adept at memorising and repeating pithy quotes and buzzwords that they are at creating student centered learning. Most teachers are not stuck in the 20th Century mindset, but they are continually depicted this way in order to validate someones assertions and importance.

For PBL teachers, flipped classrooms are absolutely nothing remarkable. For a start PBL is not regulated by modernist binaries of ‘classwork’ and ‘homework’ and uses media to prompt ideas and directions rather than instruct. I tend to assume those whom have delivered ‘expert’ content to novices in ‘traditional’ ways tend to fixed on one method and then set about arguing they have a better method. They don’t do what Brother Patrick did, and take a walk into the unknown with an open mind that what they find might be useful. Being correct and important all the time seems a terrible burden to carry — but useful if you’re a career-tribute I guess.

Can we teach PBL to pre-service teachers, using a PBL classroom? – Absolutely we can (and are). There is no reason to believe that pre-teachers are married to the methods they experienced in school as being the ones they will use. I find students are very adept at offering up better ways to learn, and seem troubled by the idea that they should become ‘like their teachers’. Every student can tell a story about a teacher that didn’t follow the 20th Century method which flipped-types use as a basis for their innovation. So before you blow a fortune on video or run up another playlist — consider that before “Flipped Classrooms” has been a method/model which has proven highly successful for decades, and gets even better if you use media in sympathy with modern times.


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  1. Pingback: The Launch: a make or break moment in PBL | LifePractice Learning

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