Updated: Oct 6
It has been less than a year since the release of ChatGPT and teachers are still trying to figure out how to adapt to a technology that abruptly upends the way they used to teach. Its effect on education or almost any other field for that matter is so fundamental that it forces teachers or professionals in every other field to rethink the ways they used to work. The old conventional method of asking students direct questions may no longer work because tools like ChatGPT can readily answer those questions. Besides answering questions, ChatGPT can provide outlines, essays, reports and any other form of expressive output that we can think of. In view of this, the biggest dilemma that teachers are faced with these days is how to change the way they teach to keep students interested, challenged and motivated to think.
The Reaction to ChatGPT
The reaction to this new threat was diverse. Several school districts decided to ban the technology in their districts. Others, realizing that students can still use the technology at home, started exploring ways by which they can use ChatGPT to help them in their new teaching goals. This last approach forced teachers to rethink their teaching methods and come up with new ideas, such as students using ChatGPT to get an outline for an essay and having them write the essay based on the outline, or students fact checking the output that ChatGPT provides, based on its tendency to make mistakes from time to time. Other solutions were offered, some more creative than others. All effective short term solutions, yet not powerful enough to rekindle students’ passion to learn.
How Is Project-Based Learning A Solution
One solution that can change this picture is project-based learning. From its inception, research has proven project-based learning to be one of the most effective ways to learn. Despite the significant impact of project-based learning on student outcomes, its adoption rate in the classroom has not been equal. Project-based learning is not easy to implement, but some of those who attempt it, don’t look back. The benefits for students are immense because it piques their curiosity, motivates them to learn, trains them to collaborate and communicate with others, teaches them to manage their time, teaches them to be self-reliant and to become leaders. Teachers, on the other hand. have to go through a series of implementation challenges that are necessary for training their students to work effectively.
As a teacher, managing project-based learning is not easy. They need to spend a great deal of planning before they start training their students. Planning has to focus on the material students need to learn for the project, best ways to manage project teams and how to train students to collaborate and communicate effectively, how to conduct research, and how to follow up and assess students’ projects effectively. All this requires a great deal of time and very good management skills, which teachers don’t always possess. That is also the reason why many teachers have given up on doing it in their classrooms.
Given the transformative impact of AI on education and the need of teachers to rethink and redesign their instructional methods, project-based learning emerges as a compelling and viable approach to adopt. Investing time to master the various components of project-based learning could be the most effective strategy for addressing the unique challenges that AI has introduced into the educational environment.
In an authentic project-based learning environment, students are required to focus on solving a problem. Those problems are usually multidisciplinary and require students to identify its different disciplines, which are then assigned to different members in the team. Each team member conducts research and investigates their discipline, while making sure to collaborate with the other team members in order to coordinate their efforts towards their mutual goals. The entire endeavor is an exercise in good investigative, collaborative and management skills, that no AI tool can orchestrate for students. In project-based learning students actually need to take a leading role on the entire project and do the work themselves. However, by using AI tools to help their project, they can come up with a final product that is superior to what they would otherwise have without it. Let’s explore how to do this in a Social Studies project.
The Social Studies Project
As we listen to the news everyday, we are bombarded with news describing problems that society is faced with almost daily. A big one is homelessness, but there are others like, inflation that makes daily living for families more difficult, the war in Ukraine, the elections and a big plethora of societal problems that each community is faced with. One project that can be applied to any of these problems is ‘Solving a Problem in Society That We Care About,’ which I am going to use as our project example.
In this project, students are going to be working in teams to solve a problem in society that they really care about. Students may choose any problem they believe that impacts their community or society in general in a negative way. Students will identify the problem, its main components, and possible solutions. Students will then come up with an action plan detailing how to get involved and document their experience making a difference. Team members will collaborate, by attributing tasks to specific team members and by brainstorming regularly to make sure that they are all working towards the project goal. The team will be supervised by the teacher and the team leader, who will be selected from the students in the team and will rotate weekly.
The Driving Question
A Driving question is a well designed question used in project-based learning that is elaborated, explored, and answered by students and the teacher. A driving question should have the following characteristics:
It should be open-ended and drive the entire investigation
It should be meaningful, interesting and exciting to learners
Students should be able to design and perform investigations to answer it
It should sustain student interest for weeks
As a teacher, you have the choice of coming up with the driving question yourself or assigning it to your students. You can determine the general topic and then have each team of students come up with their own driving question. Based on this, our driving question is “How to solve a problem in society that we all care about?” This question qualifies as a driving question because it can drive the entire investigation, it is meaningful, interesting and exciting, students can design and perform investigations to answer it and it will sustain student interest. After all, we encounter problems daily in our society that we would love to solve.
Identifying the project parts that are absolutely necessary for solving or responding to the driving question is not easy. It requires research and it is an iterative process because as students work on the project, they discover other necessary components for reaching a wholesome solution. AI can make this process much easier for students from which they can learn a great deal. Students can use ChatGPT or any other ChatBot to provide them with an outline of the things that are necessary for investigating their driving question. In our case, I provided the following query for ChatGPT “Can you provide an outline of the components that I need to investigate in order to solve this problem "How to solve a problem in society that we all care about?"” The outline that I got provided me with much more than I wanted to cover in this project, but it gave me the main project parts that I need to investigate in this project:
How to solve a problem in society that we all care about?:
Problem Identification and Definition:
Clearly define the specific societal problem you want to address.
Understand the root causes and contributing factors that have led to the problem
Gather data and evidence to support the existence and impact of the problem
Identify and engage with key stakeholders who are affected by or can influence the problem
Understand their perspectives, needs, and concerns related to the problem
Assess the level of support or opposition from various stakeholders
Research and Data Gathering:
Collect relevant data and information about the problem
Analyze the data to gain a deeper understanding of the issue
Establish clear and measurable goals for addressing the problem
Define the desired outcomes and impacts of your efforts
Brainstorm potential solutions and interventions
Consider a range of approaches
Evaluate the feasibility and practicality of each solution
Develop a detailed action plan outlining the steps, timelines, and responsibilities for implementing your solution
Consider potential challenges and mitigation strategies
Evaluation and Adaptation:
Assess the effectiveness of your solution based on the defined goals and outcomes
Be open to feedback and make necessary adjustments to improve your approach
ChatGPT provided a much more comprehensive outline, but this is probably enough for students to develop a plan for improving a problem in society that they care about.
If all team members will work on the same project, this part can be done by the entire class, followed by a class brainstorm to finalize the list of project parts to be investigated. As mentioned above, using a ChatBot can make this process much easier for students because it helps narrow down the problem at hand and navigate them in the right direction.
Project management can make or break a project. I heard many stories about projects that ended up failing because teachers did not dedicate time and effort to learn how to manage project groups and how to train students to manage their own projects. In fact, starting a project is not recommended before students are trained on time management, and how to collaborate and communicate with each other. There are teachers who work with students on acquiring these skills months before they attempt the first project and the results are very encouraging. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few blog entries and e-books that can help you:
Once students have a list of project parts that they need to complete, the teacher and the students need to focus on setting up teams and dividing the work. There are several ways to approach it. The teacher can directly take an active part in it and supervise it or the teacher can train students to be self-reliant. The latter is much more difficult to implement, but it provides more long term benefits for both the teacher and the students. Teachers get more free time after training their students and the students become self-reliant, able to tackle any new challenge that comes their way.
This type of project requires all team members to work on all sections of the project. Individual students cannot take on project sections on their own because each project section depends on understanding all other sections. Therefore, this type of project will take up more time, but team members will learn to work together, divide the work in each section amongst themselves and make sure to conduct regular brainstorming to keep the project aligned towards its goal.
How to Conduct Research
After being assigned their part of the project, each team member has to focus on researching their part of the project. Research contains the ability to search correctly, to be able to navigate ambiguity, triangulate knowledge, and question the material that was found. This blog entry can provide you and your students with valuable information on why research is so important and How to teach it to students. This blog also directs the user to two excellent resources for teaching research skills. However, these resources are not helping students determine which sources would be better for their investigation or provide them with a short summary of what each resource provides.
There are AI-powered tools that can explore the internet for you, organizing your data into digestible visualizations, and even formatting references correctly. One such AI research app is Genei, that will search the web for relevant content, offer suggestions to add new sources, crunches the content, offers a summary, extracts a list of common keywords along with all the images inside—and, to top it off, rounds up all the references to other work.
Another research tool that students will be able to use is provided by Google. Google’s AI-powered Search Generative Experience (SGE) will be able to summarize articles that students are reading on the web. SGE can already summarize search results so that students don’t have to scroll forever to find what they are looking for, and this new feature is designed to take that further by helping them out after they have actually clicked a link.
This can be a tremendous help for students because this is the part of project-based learning that most students fail on. Having access to a helper app that can find relevant resources, summarize them for the students and format the references correctly can free up students to focus on analyzing which materials will fit which parts of the project and how to analyze and synthesize everything they learned. All skills that require their executive faculty.
How Does Student Interaction Look Like
Student interaction can be broken up into several levels:
The top level - the supervisory level: includes the supervision of the teacher or when the project is student-centered, there is usually also a project leader that takes control of the project.
A teacher supervisor - is in constant control of the project, providing guidance and following up on task completion, and making sure that students are in sync with project goals
A project leader - is selected by the team and is in charge of the completion in time of team member tasks, and the coordination of team meetings. Team leaders may rotate amongst team members, let’s say every week another team member is in charge, thus also practicing leadership skills.
The lower level - each team member is in charge of their own assignment. Students meet to coordinate efforts and make sure that the tasks they are working on are synchronized to accomplish project goals. They meet to brainstorm ideas or discuss project challenges. If there is a team leader, he/she may coordinate the meetings, follow up on each member’s progress and make sure that the team’s goals are all directed towards the project goal.
Scheduling Tasks - One of the most important things in a team project is the ability to manage tasks, prioritize them and follow up on task completion. In the past, well managed teams used the calendar to schedule the tasks of the entire project, but many times got confused how to prioritize tasks and synchronize tasks for all team members. AI builds the entire schedule for the team by synchronizing tasks based on task priorities and it makes following up on task completion much easier. One such AI powered application is Motion, which focuses on project management, helping students keep track of all the tasks they still have to complete. By tweaking each task priority, the student will be telling the AI engine when it should land on the calendar and how to place the other tasks around it.
Summarizing Meetings - Up until the advent of AI, student meeting conversations were usually lost. AI changed all that and there are AI transcription apps that can turn voice into text, letting students browse it later. This can help students be more present in their meetings and, at the same time, be able to thoroughly analyze the transcription later. One such transcription app is Fireflies, which can transcribe all student meetings, tracking the conversation topics along the way. It has its own bot called Fred that can handle summarizing the meeting's contents, generating text, and searching through the history to meet students’ queries.
The Project Summary - in this phase, students will be analyzing the material they have gone through and use it to come up with conclusions or recommendations for their project. This process employs many of the working methods and tools mentioned above, such as conducting research to understand the problem in depth and conducting brainstorming sessions to discuss the challenges and possible solutions. At the end of this process, students come up with an essay describing the problem, their investigative method, their conclusions and what was the logic that guided their final conclusions. This phase is utilizing students’ executive faculties and will be done solely by the students themselves. In fact, you can think about this entire process as a bunch of helpers (in this case it is AI helpers) that aid students by providing them with well filtered raw material that they can use to arrive at educated conclusions and recommendations for the problem they are investigating.
Presenting the Project - Once students have their final essay, they can further use AI to create a presentation based on their essay. Many AI tools can create a presentation based only on a topic. Of course, that will not require student work at all. That is not what I am recommending here. Students can use SlidesAI.io to input their text, choose the total number of slides, and let SlidesAI.io do the heavy lifting of transforming the text into visually appealing slides. Once students have a professionally crafted presentation, they can then use a different AI tool to coach them to present their presentation in front of the class. PowerPoint Speaker Coach feature is specifically designed to evaluate various aspects of a presentation, including pacing, pitch, use of filler words, and other common speaking habits. It allows students to practice in private, and the feedback provided can help identify areas for improvement.
Project-based learning assessment is not easy because the project environment does not lend itself to quantitative assessment. Project assessment is mostly qualitative. In addition, the teacher is not always present while students work and there is a lot that students can tell about each other’s work in the team. A series of research studies and surveys of students provided the following recommendations about project-based learning assessment:
Tailoring the assessment to the learning environment and using a diversity of types of assessment
Students’ preferred assessment type was the reflective journal, which they felt gave an insight into group dynamics, facilitated feedback on the project and enabled students to explain their performance.
Formative assessment of journals was preferred but students were also happy for part of this to be summative.
Students felt it essential that the reflective journal should be kept confidential from other students and entries not too frequent.
Students were wary of self-assessment and peer assessment as being too subjective but supported co-assessment (by peers and staff) as this provided an element of peer assessment with the perceived “safety net” of staff evaluation.
If the implementation of an assessment process seems too time consuming and complex, AI can be helpful for both teachers and students. Gradescope is an AI tool that enables students to assess each other while providing feedback, which saves time and energy. Gradescope also enables the teacher to effortlessly manage and evaluate all assessments, whether they are conducted online or in a physical classroom. By using it, teachers can streamline their grading process and gain a comprehensive understanding of their students' progress.
Artificial Intelligence has revolutionized the educational landscape. It challenges the traditional teaching approaches, driving educators to adopt deeper learning methodologies that cultivate 21st-century skills, such as: critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, and a growth mindset. When we reflect on educational goals before the advent of AI, the emphasis was consistently on equipping students with these 21st-century competencies. In this context, AI is just forcing teachers to actualize this vision. Given that project-based learning is an ideal method for instilling these skills, it stands out as the best approach in the AI-driven educational era.
When the learning goal centers around working on a project or solving a problem, students utilize their investigative, collaborative and management skills, and employ their executive faculties, skills that no AI tool can orchestrate for them. However, by using AI, many project assignments that students used to struggle with, can become much easier to perform and free students to focus on what is important–coming up with a good solution or a good product.