Feature Stories Campus Events

Silliman: Project-Based Learning

by Mary Elizabeth Silliman

“College is no longer about acquiring knowledge, but rather about knowing when, why, and how to use it,” said the provost of Washington and Lee University in his lecture about the ever changing system of higher education. Daniel A. Wubah makes a great point; back when finding information was labor intensive and time consuming, the primary function of college was for students to come to listen to professors share their wisdom and knowledge. Today, however, technology  makes information easily accessible, and essentially anyone who knows how to work a computer or cell phone can have whatever information he needs with the click of a button from the comfort of his home. As a result, students  rely less on college to give them information and more on the schools to help them apply what they have learned as they prepare to enter the real world. As a student today, I still desire and value the wisdom and knowledge my professors have to share with me, but I am eager for more, and what I want is real-world and project based learning.

An article on edutopia.org called, “Why is Project-Based Learning Important?” explains the many merits  of using project-based  learning in the classroom. For one, it “helps students develop skills for living in a knowledge-based, highly technological society” (edutopia.org). College is generally a point in a student’s educational career where he has figured out how to read and write effectively, and he thrives in the comfortable  classroom setting. What they need is to work on developing the 21st century skills, which include planning, reasoning, critical thinking, creativity, and decision making that are essential to possess in order to thrive and survive in this day in age. Project-based learning forces students to develop these skills, as they are pushed to solve real problems and work with different people.

Another benefit of project-based l earning is the “new relevance it brings to the learning at hand” (edutopia.org). By implementing real-life context into learning, students can see how they can apply what they have acquired in the classroom. It is very powerful for a student to feel like what they are studying will help them in the real world, and they feel encouraged and inspired to find and pursue something they are passionate about.

Project-based learning “lends itself to authentic assessment,” as teachers and students can evaluate each other and track the progression of the research or project (edutopia.com). Students develop independence and demonstrate responsibility while also working in groups and improve essential teamwork skills. Additionally, this kind of experience “promotes a lifetime of learning” as students l earn to love the engagement and sense of purpose that comes with working with others to complete a project.

I am only a freshman, but my favorite class I have taken here at W&L was a conversational Spanish class with a service-learning component. A few times a week, I would go to an elementary school in a low-income area to teach Spanish. This experience benefited me and enhanced my learning in more ways than I could have imagined. I saw first hand how it helped every person in my class. It provided an awesome topic for class discussion because every student was working with different organizations, and we could share experiences and work together to solve any problems that arose. The class engagement and participation levels were so high, which provided awesome opportunities for lateral learning, and our speaking skills improved drastically.Although my focus was Spanish, I learned a lot about poverty while I  was volunteering at the school. Through talking to the students, teachers, and program directors as well as being in the classroom, I learned so much about problems facing education today with regards to children in low-income areas. This type of interdisciplinary learning is also a huge benefit of project-based classes.

My experience is one small example of how getting outside the classroom and acquiring hands on experience can be so impactful. I can only imagine how beneficial it would be for me to have the opportunity to work with an entrepreneur or someone in business, as this is the field I hope to enter one day. Being in a classroom is great in some aspects, and there is a lot to be learned from reading textbooks and participating in class discussions. However, actually going out and doing work in the world is an experience I personally want more of as a student and one I think needs to be more standard in colleges.

Mary Elizabeth Silliman, of the Class of 2018, is from Orlando, Fla.

Works Cited
“Why Is Project-Based Learning Important?” Edutopia. http:/ jwww.edutopia.orgjproject-based-learning-guide­importance