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One of the strengths of project-based learning is flexibility.  There are certainly lots of ways in which PBL can be flexible, but I would like to focus on the production of learning artifacts.  As I’ve explained in my writings, learning artifacts are produced by an individual to represent his new knowledge or skills. However, I would like to highlight here that learning artifacts are individualized (or personalized) and can reflect new knowledge and skills in myriad ways.

New knowledge is individualized.

In workshops one of the statements I commonly make about PBL is that “Projects are not recipes.”  Project-based learning should allow learners to individualize, or personalize, the learning in multiple ways.  Every learner should not produce an identical artifact. This does not reflect the foundations and purposes of PBL.  Here’s a similar quote by Chris Lehmann:

When possible, PBL should offer learners choice in the topic(s) under investigation, process of investigation, or both.  The in-depth investigation that is part of PBL should be different for each learner.  For example, in an 8th grade unit on geography and human rights, I observed learners identify injustices across different countries they were assigned, but then they went on to focus on causes and possible solutions based on their interests and understanding of the problems.  So, their learning artifacts, of course, looked differently and contained different assertions.  I liken this to differentiation, which is a very hot topic right now in K-12. In other words, the learning is individualized by the learner, which is certainly indicative of a personal learning environment.

New knowledge and skills are represented in myriad ways.

In my own teaching and when possible, I try to offer students multiple ways to represent their new knowledge or skills.  For example, I emphasize the learning goals, or objective, such as “Analyze current teaching practices for elements of digital citizenship” or “Relate cognitive load theory to cognitive information processing theory.”  Then I suggest a number of different ways in which this may be represented, for example a blog post, website, digital presentation, slidecast, concept map, comic strip, video, etc.  In K-12 classrooms, you can, of course, include craft materials.

What I try not to do ever is tell learners to “make a Powerpoint.”  I have found from my observations in classrooms that students then tell other students, you have to make a Powerpoint. Then the learning artifact and the essential purpose of the PBL is bound by “make a Powerpoint.”  “Make a Powerpoint” is rarely the point of any lesson.  Instead, I recommend that teachers and faculty members stay focused on what you’re really interested in learners doing, which is analysis, application, description, synthesis, justification, evaluation, etc. This is often easiest to do when related back to the driving question or central problem under study.  I have seen some K-12 teachers post a banner in their classrooms with the driving question, so that they can refer to it.  In an online course, it could be great to create a simple graphic that could be referred to or linked as needed in a discussion board posting. (Yes, you could create this as a Powerpoint slide. <wink> )

One of the bonuses to offering multiple outlets for the learning artifacts is that different tools have different “points of view.”  In education, we call these mental models, and different software offer different methods of how to accomplish a task.  For example, in this post at, they present 25 different concept mapping applications.  However, some of these applications create concept bubbles (called nodes) that allow crossing linking lines, such as Mindjet.  Others, though, are quite hierarchical that force subordination of concepts, such as Mindomo.  Depending on the content and the individual, the learner may want to represent their knowledge differently.  The different tools may be a better match for one learner and content than another.

Multiple representations of knowledge

So, PBL affords learners the opportunities to represent new knowledge and skills in multiple ways.  Because learners are able to choose multiple paths through instruction, or learning processes, they may make decisions about how to tackle a topic, and subsequently, how to represent that topic.  PBL also gives learners choices about tools to construct their artifacts.  When possible, I recommend offering students a variety of tools and choices for constructing their artifacts.  We all have different abilities, so choice in tools allows us to use these abilities in ways that are often constricted with paper-and-pencil and computer-based testing.

What are your thoughts?  How have you seen PBL afford multiple representations of knowledge?  What challenges have you seen to implementing PBL this way, too.

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Natasha Mileshina via Compfight

Late last week, Connie Malamed published a list of 100 Hand-picked Freebies for eLearning Designers as part of her blog The eLearning Coach. This was certainly a great list, so much so that I tweeted in out and +1’d it on Google+ too.

I wanted to highlight a few of the resources and tools that Connie mentioned as ones that I really value and use (or have used).

  • NuggetHead Studioz:  Kevin Thorn is a colleague/friend of mine here in town and took the plunge to go out on his own as a consultant.  Tom Kuhlmann also has a font for hand-drawn arrows and circles that I use regularly in elearning and slidedecks.
  • Articulate Community: The folks at Articulate know how to share.
  • IconFinder: IconFinder is one of my favorite search engines.
  • Jing: When I need to make screen captures, I use Jing almost exclusively.  I also use Jing to provide feedback to students on their work.  I like the 5 minute time limit, because it limits me as well to making sure that I mention (and point to on screen) the areas I care about most.
  • Poll Everywhere: I am a huge fan of  I regularly mention and highlight it in my workshops on mobile teaching and learning.
  • Doodle:  I used to use MeetingWizard; now I almost exclusively have switched to Doodle.

I’m Gonna Check These Out

From Connie’s descriptions, there a few that I’m going to be following up and spending some time exploring.  Here’s my quick list of ones I want to research:

Thanks for a great list, Connie, and thanks for sharing it with us!

2013 CCFA Take Steps Walk

 I’m going to do something really uncomfortable for me. I’m going to tell a very private story in a very public setting. Once a year, I decide to share a very personal story, because it’s too important for me to not share it. To the left is my avatar online that many of you see. Well, that’s not the most accurate depiction. Here goes …

When I was 16-years-old (I’m 41 now.), I became very sick.
I lost about 40 pounds without trying.
I experienced intense pain every night, and I was sick every morning (in a very gross way).
I lived with lots of embarrassing personal events.
I thought this was normal.
I graduated high school, went to college, graduated with a bachelor’s degree then a Masters, and I still was sick without any real explanation—all the while balancing life, school, work … and pain.

About 14 years ago, I started my PhD. About 13 years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Finally, I had an answer. Unfortunately, it was only a beginning; my health became much worse. I have spent the last decade—practically all of my 3rd decade on our planet— attempting to manage how bad things were, and I also spent a lot of time trying to ignore how sick I was. It’s just not something I talked about. My Crohn’s was painful, debilitating, and secretive.

About 6 years ago, things changed. My disease became so bad, I had no option but to have surgery. (It was a stressful time for me already. I was preparing for tenure and promotion as well.) The surgery went well, but it lasted about 2.5 times longer than the great surgeon planned. Recovery was long. It was hard to be home, be a teacher to my students, be a husband, and be a daddy to my daughters. How do you tell your little ones you can’t pick them up and they can’t sit in your lap?

Remarkably, since that time, I have been in a much better place. However, Crohn’s is a chronic disease, and there is no cure. I’m over the 20 year mark now for living with Crohn’s. My current prognosis is incredibly positive, but the lack of a cure reminds me that things can change quickly. I’m told that there’s about an 80% chance that my disease will return. So, I’m waiting. I have a 8-inch long scar on my abdomen to remind me physically of what I’ve gone through and that it’s not over for me.

What’s worse though? What’s worse is knowing that these digestive diseases have a genetic link. So, now I not only worry about me. Now I worry about my three daughters. That is why I believe it is critical to raise money to find a cure for Crohn’s, colitis, IBD, and all of the digestive diseases to help prevent my daughters from going through what I’ve gone through.

2013 CCFA Take Steps WalkOn the afternoon of September 29th, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America will host the “Take Steps. Be Heard.” walk at Mud Island. This is the 6th year for my family to raise money and “do the walk.” It’s so important to our family that the day before, September 28th, my wife Katie will run a half-marathon, having raised money already. The CCFA walk is a great experience, and it reminds me of how much bigger my role is in helping others. I need your help, though. I would like to invite you to make a donation to help cure the digestive diseases, including Crohn’s disease, colitis and ulcerative colitis, and IBS, that plague children and adults alike. Together, we can make a significant difference. Here’s the link to donate online:

I know that many people feel that they cannot make a substantial donation. I’m hear to say, “Every donation is substantial in my eyes.” So, if you can contribute $5.00, that’s substantial. Please don’t let the amount prevent you from helping. I would rather see 500 friends and family members contribute $5.00 each than just a couple folks contribute larger amounts. (Don’t get me wrong. If you want to blow my mind with a crazy-large amount, I’m all for it.) But I want everyone who has been affected by these diseases to feel the meaning that I do by contributing.

Finally, please don’t think that this is an exclusive club. Oh, no. If you have friends, family, or other colleagues that share our passion, I encourage you to forward them/retweet/share the information and invite them to donate as well. That link again is

Blessings and health to you and your family. I hope you can help. 🙂

I wanted to let everyone know that I’m going to be presenting a new workshop for K-12 teachers coming up soon.  This workshop is going to be fun and hands-on.  We’re going to look at some exciting technologies, including augmented reality (AR) and quick response (QR) codes. Specifically, we’re going to look at how these technologies can be used with mobile devices, like smartphones and tablet computers, and I’m betting at least one or two of the things we’ll try will blow your mind.

The date and details are listed below:

You gotta see this!  Augmented reality & QR codes in action

Location // Room 320 Ball Hall, University of Memphis
Time & Date // 4:00 – 5:30 pm, Thursday (October 17, 2013)

Drop in for this fast-paced and hands-on workshop to see some of the most current and exciting technologies available for teachers and students. We’ll take look at QR codes (those square thingies on signs and posters) and augmented reality, which let’s you merge the real world with the digital one. In addition to learning how to do use these technologies, we’ll discuss how they can be leveraged for teaching and learning, too. Feel free to bring your own iPad or iPhone, or I’ll have an iPad for you to borrow.

The space for this workshop is limited, and the registration will open up on September 15th.  (I will send out some info when this goes “live.”)  If you have any questions, just let me know.  Use the comments below or email me.

I am super excited to be working with the Baptist College of Health Sciences here in Memphis.  I’ve been asked to present to their faculty as part of a faculty professional development day, so this is a great opportunity to share about problem-based learning, project-based learning, and some strategies to help with teaching online and hybrid courses.  This certainly overlaps with my work with the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, as well as some of the teacher professional development I’ve been doing recently, too. Below are the two slidedecks that I will be using.

[slideshare id=25621707&doc=pbl-recovered-130826222508-phpapp02]

[slideshare id=25621802&doc=engaging-backup-130826223037-phpapp02]

If you happen to have questions about any of these, please let me know.

This morning I will be presenting to the UofM graduate teaching assistant (GTAs). I’ve had the pleasure of being asked to present to these folks for a number of years now, and it is an opportunity that I sincerely look forward to each fall. I really enjoy sharing my passions for teaching and learning with graduate students who will be working as TAs in higher ed — many of which will go on to become university faculty members. It’s a fun gig for sure, and I’m proud to be part of it.

Here’s a copy of the slidedeck that I will be using:
[slideshare id=5041303&doc=gta-workshop-2010-grant-100823155600-phpapp01]

And here is a link to my Resource Wiki, where more information can be found:

As editor of The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, I wanted to give a quick update as to where folks are finding value.  In July 2013, IJPBL had 6349 full-text downloads.  The most popular papers were:

IJPBL is an open access journal focusing on inquiry methods, including problem-based learning, project-based learning, case-based learning, anchored instruction, and inquiry.  Our journal continues to be rigorous with an acceptance rate between 6 t0 16%.

As a reminder, this past spring we began a new section in IJPBL to highlight the implementations of inquiry by individuals, teachers and faculty members, schools, departments, and districts.  These “Voices from the Field” articles focus on implementation, are highly contextualized, and include reflections and lessons learned.  You can see the call for manuscripts at