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Making real world connections through project-based learning and telecollaboration


Based on the numerous policies that are in place, the Vietnamese government is very keen on supporting ICT infusion into education. It has been reported that schools are 100% ICT-equipped and have reliable Internet connection. Local software applications have been made available as well. Further, school administrators, teachers, and students have been trained on basic ICT skills. However, despite all these efforts, it has been observed that most teachers are not too concerned on adopting innovative methodologies in the use of ICT to support and enhance learning processes.  Policies and standards on actual ICT infusion in the classroom to guide teachers have yet to be established.

It is in this light that UNESCO Bangkok conducted its 9th capacity building workshop on designing and implementing ICT-supported project-based learning in Hanoi, Vietnam on 23-27 August 2011. The workshop is part of a larger project, “Facilitating ICT-Pedagogy Integration” funded by Korea Funds-in-Trust that aims to create an enabling environment for student-centered use of ICT by building a stronger partnership between teacher education institutions (TEIs) and schools using project-based learning (PBL) and telecollaboration. The previous eight workshops were held in Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand.

This particular workshop was co-organized with the Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE). Thirty-two teachers from ten different schools in Hanoi and nearby areas participated in the five-day workshop. School Principals, officials from MOET, teacher educators from HNUE, and experts from VVOB (an international NGO working in the field of ICT and teacher education in Vietnam) also attended the workshop. Ms. Janet Pillai from the Universiti Ssains Malaysia (USM in Penang) was invited by UNESCO Bangkok to serve as the main Resource Person, together with Ms. Jonghwi Park and Ms. Mel Tan, Programme Officers in ICT in Education of UNESCO Bangkok.

The resource persons underscored the potentials of the PBL approach in engaging students in interactive, interdisciplinary, and collaborative activities to apply the knowledge learned and skills gained in actual real life situations.  PBL encourages active learning, taking on different roles, and making own decisions. Further, multiple skills are learned / gained, for example, interviewing and research skills, teamwork, and networking.

Ms. Pillai talked about PBL illustrating its interconnection with other pedagogical approaches. She provided the participants with a greater perspective on PBL as she presented a model of its implementation in a school in Sandakan, Malaysia. She believes that teachers can always motivate students to initiate interesting, meaningful, effective, and self-directed learning activities through PBL. She said that “Children like PBL because they get to explore and inquire by themselves (like detectives), create their own products which is empowering!”  She, however, emphasized that the student project teams would need teacher guidance before, during, and after the project. 

The participants greatly appreciated the presentations on local case studies showing that PBL can indeed be done by teachers for regular Vietnamese classes.  The teacher presenters observed that PBL provides opportunities for students to make real world connections. They also talked about how much fun the students had while learning about different concepts since PBL is flexible enough to accommodate student interests, teamwork, and a diverse mix of outputs like a game show, machine contraptions, brochures, and documentary videos.  They also talked about the various challenges and barriers that teachers face in using PBL including getting management support, investing extra time and effort (especially for projects that required after-school activities), and partnering with interested groups.  Teachers find it very interesting, but they also find it too challenging, especially in the preparation and monitoring of students progress. The comment was posed as to the kind of support required to overcome these issues. A suggestion was given that good planning makes it easier to implement PBL.

To get hands-on practice on PBL, the participants were divided into five groups that allowed them to try out inter-disciplinary and inter-school collaboration. The projects that they conceptualized and designed during the workshop were as follows: 1) Comics: a new look; 2) Advertising a product; 3) Study on the Level of Sewage Pollution in Xuan Dinh Handicrafts Village; 4) Bringing Folk Games to the Elementary School Kids; and 5) Preserving Cultural Village of Vong.  Ms. Pillai guided the participants through the project design phase by taking them through the Project Plan Framework and Task-Tools/Resources templates that teachers and students can use for planning and executing projects.  “Once the PBL steps are identified, the action plan becomes clearer to guide project activities toward effective implementation,” stated one participant.

Groups then presented their outputs through mini presentation sessions at the end of every session. This allowed the participants to learn from and suggest improvements to the other groups. The discussions arrived at the common understanding of PBL and expressed that “in project-based learning (PBL), students work in teams and explore real-world problems and share what they have learned. Compared with learning solely from traditional ways (mainly from textbooks), this approach has many benefits for students, including (1) Deeper knowledge of subject matter; (2) Increase self-direction and motivation; (3) Enhance research and problem-solving skills”.

The Hanoi PBL workshop also allowed the participants to pilot-test UNESCO-Bangkok’s online Education Community where they uploaded and shared their session outputs, insights, and other resources.  Towards the end of the workshop, various ICT tools in support of PBL and telecollaboration were examined like word processors (for PBL templates, documentation), spreadsheets (for Gantt chart, patterns and trends, budget projections), mindmapping software, virtual tours, online repositories and archives, interest group forums, wikis, teleconferencing, etc.  The participants then tried out some free applications like MS Photo Story (for photo essays and digital stories), (for posters), and (for comic strips) that they or their students can use for their projects.

The workshop evaluation by participants indicated that the workshop was generally interesting, useful, and relevant to them.  They agreed to continue enhancing their project designs and to try executing the projects in their respective schools, with assistance from the HNUE PBL team.  However, they would like to see the PBL-telecollaboration workshop conducted for more teachers from more schools in Vietnam.  They would also like to see additional local PBL cases to learn and model from.   In all, as one participant puts it, “the workshop is rewarding and it must encourage teachers to apply PBL and train them with approaches for interdisciplinary and inter-school collaboration.”

UNESCO Bangkok and HNUE will continue to provide technical support and guidance through UNESCO-Bangkok’s Education Community in order for the participating teacher teams to successfully execute their PBL designs.