If we're serious about leading educators in order to leverage technology in ways that are innovative and engaging, then it falls to us to model appropriate lessons in our work with teachers. The adoption of a cohort model is one of the innovations at Learning 2.011 that confirmed for me that we would be in for a memorable learning experience. Cohorts emerged as participants highlighted their preferences upon registration. My cohort consisted of 22 teachers eager to explore project-based learning.
As an advocate of both project-based learning and experiential learning, it was with great anticipation that I prepared to lead the PBL Cohort. While I was prepared to lead the group to develop a collaborative publication, I didn't anticipate that it would be such a challenge to decide upon a culminating project. Although I've worked on a number of large group projects in my own professional learning, I could never have guessed how wonderfully engaging our PBL product and workflow would be.
Thursday evening, cohort meeting #1:
After the official opening of the conference, our cohort had an opportunity to gather in what would later become our classroom and media centre. We used this time to meet one another, and to discover the learning styles, hobbies, and tech literacies of fellow group members. Our cohort had a high number of athletes, and a wide range of skills that included drawing, writing, video-editing, audio-recording, directing and more.
Friday morning, cohort meeting #2:
Participants knew ahead of time that this session would be used to share personal profiles on our cohort blog, http://lrn2pbl.posterous.com. Since this site was intended to be an artifact of our learning, participants had to be briefed on the many ways they might contribute to our public learning space. Individuals were invited to post by 1] sending an email to the blog address; 2] bookmarking a site with the cohort hashtag; 3] sending a tweet along with the cohort hashtag; 4] posting a photo or video to Flickr using the cohort hashtag.
We used the latter half of the session to brainstorm a potential project towards which we might apply our varied skills. Five potential topics and themes were suggested, but when each of four sub-groups was asked to highlight one preferred topic, we ended up with four very different ideas. I left the session assuming we would be creating and publishing an e-book on project-based learning, but I had no idea of what the book would be about! This made me more than a bit nervous, knowing we had to hit the ground running on Saturday.
Friday afternoon, cohort meeting #3:
In this second working session, we attempted to nail down a focus for our pending e-book. To me, the most interesting of the five options, was "World with PBL; World without PBL". Although none of the groups gravitated to this topic at the previous session, I suggested that in my head I heard a movie trailer voiceover guy when I read the topic "In a world where project-based learning...".
Suddenly the mood of the room shifted, and more than a few participants agreed that making a movie based on this theme, would be a good way to leverage the talent in the room. After brainstorming roles that included writers, prop managers, equipment technicians, location scouts, video-editors, sound mixers, directors, and actors, cohort participants self-selected roles and dove into preparations for the next day's shoot.
Saturday morning, cohort meeting #4:
After a short briefing, I found myself on the sidelines as teams set to work. In no time, groups dove into their roles simultaneously taking care of set decoration, camera set-up, soundtrack development, rehearsal and filming. Completed media was imported by our video-editing team during scene changeovers. Members of the writing team used this time to brief the director and actors in preparation for the next scene.
Saturday afternoon, cohort meeting #5:
Our final session together, began with the screening of the first draft of our film. When some of the footage appeared out of order, we realized the value in having one of the writers work directly with the video-editing team. After a quick shuffle of clips, the group brainstormed titles that would help clarify the intended message of the piece. The synchronization of the soundtrack and export of the final film was completed while remaining members of the group participated debriefed the experience.
The completion of a project like this is highly rewarding to the participants which may be why members of my cohort commonly showed up well in advance of each session. With each participant having a distinct role to play, there is evidence of each person's contribution in the final product. I hope my 'production team' enjoyed the experience as much as I enjoyed facilitating this cohort. It was certainly a memorable way to teach and learn about project-based learning.