Modeling Real Problems and Authentic Assessments in Online Courses through Project Based Learning

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

In addition to providing content learning and building 21st century skills, problem-based learning (PBL) provides opportunities for deeper learning and collegial collaboration. This supports creation of authentic artifacts to demonstrate learning and assist with assessment. We will present technologies and strategies for painless implementation of PBL in online learning environments.


Mark E. Deschaine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education and Human Services at Central Michigan University. He has extensive local, state, and national experience in training and development of faculty in the integration of technology into their curriculum, special education issues, and effective instructional practices. He holds Michigan certification and endorsements as a teacher, a special educator, and building as well as central office administrator. His research agenda focuses on how theory, policy, and processes support effective differentiated instruction.
Dr. Ray Francis is a tenured professor, and member of the graduate faculty, in the Department of Teacher Education and Professional Development (TEPD) at Central Michigan University (CMU). Dr. Francis currently teaches courses in evaluation and measurement, research methods, and research capstone seminars at the MA level. In addition, Dr. Francis teaches doctoral level courses in the Doctorate in Educational Technology (DET) program. Dr. Francis’ current research interests include aspects of student motivation in blended and online learning, concept mapping, prior learning assessment, authentic assessment, and global experiences to build the professional knowledge base of undergraduate and graduate students. He is an ongoing advocate of Prior Learning Assessment process in higher education. In addition, Dr. Francis has served as a lead auditor with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and the Peer Review Corps of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Extended Abstract

College faculty in all settings face the ongoing dilemma of preparing teachers capable of balancing student learning and effective teaching with the need to meet content standards and perform administrative tasks.  This tension increases when classes are online and the students never meet face to face. Often these faculty members have not utilized problem-based learning strategies in higher education classes, and if they have, it was taught in face-to-face formats.

One pedagogy that has promise of engaging students, improving learning and motivation, and fostering community engagement is problem-based learning. However, in higher education, this strategy is not often utilized. Furthermore, in online settings for both underclassmen and graduate students, instructors lack strategies that could support their implementation of problem-based learning – and also lack the skills and understandings that would allow them to model PBL for their students.

In addition to content learning and building 21st century skills, problem-based learning experiences provide students with the opportunity for deeper learning and collaboration, as well as the creation of authentic artifacts that can demonstrate learning and be used for assessment.

We intend to present skills, technologies, and strategies for painless implementation of Problem-based Learning in online learning environments. We will model the development of driving questions and implementation, strategies for drawing out engagement for students, and assessments. In addition, we will demonstrate technologies such as flipgrid and formative that will help supplement and support student learning through problem-based learning strategies.

The implementation of authentic assessment strategies within PBL lessons provides faculty with the opportunity to help learners enhance their performance, as well as prompt the learners to understand the scope of their profession, and provide meaningful and impactful data for accreditation. As such, we intend to discuss and demonstrate how and why specific strategies support online PBL lessons more fully.

Participants will be consistently engaged with the authentic assessment process throughout the session by discussion about the engaging modeled activities that have been structured to demonstrate the problem-based learning process. Participants will participate by creating driving questions and outlining a PBL unit that will connect learners to their community.  In addition, the presenters will promote a discussion style atmosphere within the session to address questions and meet the needs of the participants. Materials will be provided and website addresses for key information items will be shared with participants.

As a result of participation in this session there are several ideas and practices the attendees can expect to take with them. These include: 

1.         An understanding of how problem based learning can be used in higher education settings, particularly in online courses to engage students and deepen understanding

2.         Technologies to support activities and increase communication during PBL activities.

3.         Strategies for using PBL to improve motivation and engage students in authentic problems that affect their communities such as fostering equity and improving access.

4.         Examples of ways to translate artifacts of authentic assessment activities into usable and meaningful data to enhance candidate learning and faculty instruction.

This session will prepare teacher educators and teachers to incorporate PBL into their classrooms, particularly online settings. We will share several high impact strategies that will contribute to teacher’s understanding of PBL use and assessment in an online setting. Through a greater understanding of how to incorporate authentic questions, contexts, and assessments, the teacher educators will be more prepared to model PBL within their online classes when preparing pre-service and providing professional development to in-service teachers.

The use of PBL in learning environments has been connected to higher academic achievement and 21st Century learning skills. It has also been used to foster equity and connect students with their communities through the use of real world, authentic problems. We will share strategies for generating problems and driving questions are engaging and promote deeper learning; ones that address objectives and standards and are also relevant to a wide variety of learners spanning multiple geographical regions, states, and countries. By creating questions that push learners to solve problems focused on relevant issues within families, cultures, and communities, teachers can foster regard for individuals, regardless of their differences.