Georgetown University Professor Randy Bass

The 2020 Institute on Project-Based Learning Switches Gears, Goes Online

Center for Project-Based Learning Pivots, Hosting Successful Event Remotely
September 01, 2020

In another demonstration of WPI’s ingenuity and commitment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Project-Based Learning (PBL) switched gears and hosted the 2020 Institute on Project-Based Learning completely online. While the format was different than that of the previous five years,the focus remained: helping participants create a realistic, actionable plan to implement PBL through intensive, collaborative workshops.

“We feel that our first online Institute was a success, and we were excited to give our participants not only the theory of online project work, but also the practice of it, says Kristin Wobbe, the Center’s director. "The realities of COVID-19 are that educators will have to be able to operate online, and PBL is a pedagogy that flexes to online delivery without losing any of its power.”

The three-day event, held in June, included faculty, curriculum directors, and other administrators from eight colleges and universities from across the country who sought to learn how to best incorporate project-based learning into their own curriculum and campus culture.

The Institute has hosted 134 teams from 110 colleges and universities since its inaugural Institute in 2015, collaborating with teams of faculty and administrators from around the globe to develop strategies to integrate project-based learning on their campuses and advance the benefits of project-based learning for students within higher education.

Georgetown University English Professor Randy Bass, vice president for Strategic Education Initiatives and director, Red House & Baker Trust for Transformational Learning, delivered the keynote. “The future of higher education, the very survival of your institutions, and potentially the future of humanity, largely pivots on what you will be doing during this institute,” he said. Bass argued that PBL provides integrative applied learning that develops the whole student, giving them professional identity and agency, while providing opportunities to build community and have an impact.

The event included key programming and features such as coaches—WPI faculty and staff —working with each team and concurrent workshops on a variety of PBL-related topics, providing access to experts on PBL. Participants also had the opportunity to remotely present their campus action plans to the other teams and faculty from the Institute. A panel of four WPI students and alumni also recounted their experiences with PBL and answered questions. 

“The participants were very satisfied and enthusiastic about their learning," says Wobbe, "and we felt that we also learned quite a bit about how to run our intensive Institute online. We are considering having an annual online institute that would support teams that cannot come to the in-person Institute, so this was a great first experience with an online institute format.”

The event also received high praise from Patty Robinson, director of the instruction office at the College of the Canyons in California. “Given the restrictions that COVID-19 has placed on public gatherings, I was happy that WPI was able to offer the Institute in a virtual format," she said. "So, will I submit an application again next year to have our team participate, even if it remains virtual? YES!,  The Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Project-Based Learning is absolutely phenomenal. Kudos to all.”

-By Lauren Borsa-Curran