What did the teacher in me learn?
Last semester, I had to teach a class on a subject I didn’t know much about. My class got switched at the last minute, and I ended up taking on a business writing class that I didn’t feel at all prepared to teach. As I always do when I get thrown a class at the last minute, I asked everyone I could think of for ideas, and my coworkers ended up steering me toward a mostly project-based approach as the best way to handle the situation. My students started by doing individual presentations and then put together two group presentations, with the last one functioning as the final. As far as I could tell, the class went well; we had a fun class dynamic, and the groups all seemed to get along and share work reasonably equally.
This class was an interesting chance to see project-based learning from the other side – to be a member of one of the groups. Having done the project, I have more mixed feelings about project-based learning than I had before. I think it’s a great way to motivate students – I know I went into high gear as soon as I heard the word “publish,” and I think my group as a whole produced a much higher level and volume of work than we would have without that word. What I realized, though, is that an entirely project-based approach makes it difficult for the teacher to control the overall vibe of the class. I was very lucky, last semester, to have a class where we all got along well and there were no complicated group dynamics (that I knew of, at least). Here, I think we all had the best intentions, but there were still clashes, and that makes me wary of making a single group project the central focus of a class.