New Survey Results for Implementation of PBL
Thank you to all the participants of this study,
The following is a portion of Chapter 4â€™s data analysis:
The purpose of this study was to find out how and why administrators are implementing project-based learning in their schools, and to find out what the most common barriers are to PBL implementation. Data from a survey, interviews, and archival evidence was collected to answer the following questions: What are the main barriers to implementing PBL? Why are schools implementing PBL? How is PBL being implemented?
Data was collected during a three week period in which over 400 email letters were sent out to administrators across the United States. This survey was completed by 51 school administrators from and 20 different states and one from Canada.
How PBL is being implemented
To find out how PBL is being implemented in schools, administrators were asked if PBL was being implemented school wide, in multiple classrooms, or in individual classrooms. The results of this survey show that most PBL implementation is taking place school wide (49%) and in multiple classrooms (39%). This would indicate that when schools are supportive to PBL it is more likely to be implemented and become a part of school culture. These results could also indicate that school administrators are more likely to be aware of PBL usage when many or all of their teachers are engaged in its implementation. It was surprising to this researcher to find only 12% of administrators had PBL occurring only in a single classroom. It may be that administrators are not always aware that PBL is happening in one of many classrooms at their school site, therefore they would not be moved to respond to this survey.
More findings about how PBL is being implemented relates to a schoolâ€™s context in the educational arena. Administrators answering this question could choose multiple answers to describe their school context. This survey found that PBL is used in many different contexts but is concentrated in charter schools and other alternative school programs. Out of the 51 survey respondents 82% identified themselves as public schools. The public school category was an umbrella for other respondents also identified themselves in categories such as charter schools (43%), afterschool programs (14%), technology based schools (10%), experimental programs (6%), GATE (6%), and magnet schools (4%). The large amount of charter schools using PBL indicates that this format is the most conducive to the implementation of PBL compared to any other single type of school. Charter Schools have the type of independence that it takes for a whole school implementation to occur. Some administrators made comments in the survey that PBL was written into their schoolâ€™s charter; it was their schoolâ€™s core philosophy. The fact that so many charter schools are solidly in the PBL camp may be related to the Edvisions model. Edvisions schools consult with small charter schools helping their boards and administrators to successfully implement PBL programs. Many charter schools Charter school administrators were also the most enthusiastic about PBL and being interviewed. The websites of charter schools implementing PBL advertised the benefits and strengths of PBL.
A small number of administrators from religious, Waldorf, and private schools responded to this survey indicating that PBL can be implemented and adopted by a wide variety of schools. This researcher also believes that the small number of single classroom respondents indicates the many individual teachers in regular public schools referred to in the literature were not recognized by principals who received correspondence from this researcher.
Why PBL is implemented
Two survey questions and interview questions were asked about why schools choose to implement project-based learning. Using a Likert Scale the survey asked administrators what PBL is effective for; five qualities were presented from the review of the literature; engaging students, stimulating critical thinking, differentiation, collaboration, and increasing the quality of education. When the Likert items were scored from 5 (Strongly Agree) to 1 (Strongly Disagree) engaging students scored 4.9, critical thinking 4.9, differentiation 4.6, collaboration 4.8, and increasing quality of education was 4.7. An overwhelming 88% of administrators â€śstrongly agreedâ€ť that PBL is effective for engaging students in learning. None of the respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that PBL was effective for any of the five qualities mentioned. When school administrators were asked to identify the most important quality leading to the implementation of PBL, student engagement was chosen by 45% of respondents. This finding indicates that PBL would be a great remedy in situations where students are disengaged, dropping out, or perceiving that their education is not relevant to real life. This idea is backed up by many school websites that tout student engagement. The Edvisions Schools website advertises schools with â€śrigorous, engaging projects that connect to the real worldâ€ť. Avalon, a PBL school gives parent testimonials on their website like the boy, â€śabout to drop out of high schoolâ€ť who is now interested and engaged in their PBL school.
Several administrators interviewed stated that PBL was implemented at their site because it aligned with their schools vision. One administrator pointed out that schools shouldnâ€™t make students â€śpassive recipients of information so that one day, they can actively participate in societyâ€ť, and that PBL â€śis the most appropriate vehicle to prepare students to be college ready and globally competitiveâ€ť. Administrators involved in PBL are adamant about the effectiveness of PBL. PBL isnâ€™t a prescription but a process that allows students to â€śfocusâ€ť, have â€śownershipâ€ť, create â€śmeaningâ€ť, and become â€śproductive citizensâ€ť by â€śthinking growing and taking control of their educationâ€ť. These are the words of PBL principals and directors.
The barriers to PBL implementation
In reviewing the literature about PBL implementation, a lot was written about the difficulties and barriers researchers encountered about PBL implementation. The barriers identified in the literature included lack of time, curricular competition, assessment difficulties, lack of professional development, and challenges with classroom management. These barriers had been identified by teachers and researchers studying PBL, not by administrators actually implementing PBL. When presented with a Likert scale asking about administratorsâ€™ perceptions of the barriers presented in PBL implementation, the following findings were made. When Likert items were scored from 5 (SA) to 1 (SD) lack of time scored a 3.4, competition with curriculum 3.3, difficulty with assessments 3.1, lack of professional development 3.9, and classroom management difficulties 2.9. Many administrators disagreed (39%) that assessments were a barrier. One administrator I interviewed pointed out that because his students were engaging in critical thinking they did better on assessments than theyâ€™re non PBL peers at other schools. PBL causing difficulty with classroom management brought split perceptions with 44% of administrators agreeing and 48% disagreeing that it was a barrier to PBL implementation. A lack of time for PBL and curricular competition with PBL had very similar results with over 56% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that time and curriculum could be a barrier to implementation. These same two barriers were each viewed as the main barrier to PBL implementation by 18% of school administrators. New ideas were brought to the table about barriers to PBL including lack of money for projects, fear, staff buy-in, and a lack of leadership.
The largest stated barrier to implementation is a lack of professional development. In the Likert scale 78% of survey participants agreed or strongly agreed that a lack of professional development was a barrier, and 51% of administrators saw this as the main barrier to implementing PBL. The findings indicate that getting teachers trained to better facilitate PBL would allow smoother implementation and increase teacher buy-in for using PBL. Further professional development would also increase the quality, consistency, and understanding of PBL programs. It is fortunate that lack of professional development is the main barrier to PBL implementation because it is the easiest of the barriers to overcome.
Discussion & Conclusions
In the Review of the Literature this researcher found that PBL could be implemented more successfully if it was happening in the entire school are in multiple classrooms (Ravitz, 2010). When the entire school or portions of the school are implementing PBL it creates a support network and a culture that allows PBL to thrive. The results of this study tend to support this notion as 88% of school administrators indicated that PBL was being implemented school wide (49%), or in multiple classrooms (39%).
The importance of the public charter school is another major finding in this study. The format of the charter school seems to support the method of PBL by allowing whole schools to successfully implement the program in a supportive environment. Just as one charter school principal told me how after a regular public school watered down their PBL program, he struck out with a group of teachers to start their own PBL school without compromises. One study in the review of the literature found that 66% of charter schools surveyed engaged in PBL (Buchanen et al, 2006), this study found that 43% of school administrators responding were working with charter schools.
In the literature there were five main reasons that researchers found schools implemented PBL. This study confirmed that school administrators all agree that student engagement, critical thinking, differentiation, collaboration, and increased quality of education are all important reasons they implement PBL. The major finding in this part of the study is that 45% of PBL administrators believe that student engagement is the most important quality of PBL. Marketing PBL as a way to increase student engagement is an important tool for schools and parents with disengaged students. It is inversely important to mention here that differentiation and collaboration are not very marketable qualities as only a combined 9% of administrators picked them as the most important qualities of PBL.
In examining the barriers to implementing PBL, much can be learned by researchers and administrators. Since all 51 school administrators who responded to this survey have experience implementing PBL, it is important to consider their collective knowledge. The main barrier for 51% of PBL administrators is a lack of professional development. Since most credentialed teachers are trained in contemporary techniques it would make sense that they would need retrained and indoctrinated into a new philosophy. The barriers for this study were found in the review of literature and most were derived from the perspectives of researchers and teachers in the classroom. This researcher believes the other four barriers may be more important for teachers. This finding uncovers an important administrative need in the world of PBL. Further inquiries should be made about the availability of professional development for PBL teachers and schools. A call could also be made to organizations such as the Buck Institute to make more trainings available to more schools interested in PBL.