MET:Learning Tools in Assessing Project-based Learning

From UBC Wiki

Project-based learning is a constructivist teaching and learning method that engages students in authentic learning opportunities that are situationally significant to curricular content and the development of 21st century skills. The use of Learning Tools in Assessing Project-based Learning contributes to the overall success in implementing project-based learning in classroom settings by supporting educators and students in the documentation of learning over time. In addition, learning tools in project-based learning help to develop an assessment plan that is authentic to the tasks students are engaged in and authentically involve them in the learning process. These tools provide educators with the appropriate evidence of students meeting the major goals, both process and content, as defined in the project-based unit.

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Project Based Learning Hexagon


Project-based learning is the organization of learning around projects that meets the five main criteria of centrality, includes a driving question, promotes constructive investigations, and develops autonomy and realism. Projects are complex tasks that engage students in design, decision making, and inquiry, which gives them opportunities to work relatively autonomously over extended periods of time on authentic products or presentations [1]. The quest for deeper, authentic, content learning in the 21st century is cognitively developed through project-based learning components including, but not limited to: creativity, critical-thinking, collaboration, and communication.

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Comparison of Project, Problem, and Inquiry Based Learning

What it is, What it is Not

An important distinction needs to be made to ensure that instruction is delivered for the means in which it was intended. While there are certain similarities to project and problem-based learning, there are also noteworthy differences between the two constructivist learning options. Problem-based learning focuses on experiential learning where students work to develop resolutions for meaningful problems [2]. Conversely, project-based learning is a comprehensive teaching and learning approach that engages students in the investigation of authentic problems [3]. According to Smart Blog on Education, a discussion on the similarities and differences of project and problem based learning needs to take place prior to decisions surrounding instructional direction.

Implications on Classroom Assessment

The nature of project-based learning moves teachers away from traditional paper and pencil tests and towards more authentic and meaningful assessment practices [4]. These assessment practices shed light on students' understanding of not only significant curricular content, but also important 21st century skills that employers have identified as necessary for students to successfully enter the workforce [5]. In project-based learning there is no single assessment plan that can be prescribed to meet the needs of a project, rather it is the teacher's analysis of what form(s) of evidence (including products, observations or conversations) that will provide them with the best evidence when assessing student understanding. However, using a variety of forms of assessment, formative and summative, and involving students in the assessment process is pivotal to ensuring students successfully meet the expectations for the culminating project [4].

Forming an Authentic Assessment Plan

Educator and student engagement in authentic forms of assessment rooted in authentic learning tasks help to ensure the success of implementing project-based learning in the classroom. According to Moursund, “as the curriculum content in project-based learning is authentic and resembles the real-world setting, evaluation for students’ work turn into authentic assessment which measure their performance and learning of the authentic content. As students are responsible for their own learning in the project-based learning setting, students learn self-reflection where they become proficient in assessing their own progression in learning and also peer-assessment on how to effectively provide constructive feedback to their peers” (1999). In assessing project-based learning, authentic assessments are a suitable means of assessment in place of traditional assessments such as norm-referenced testing and standardized testing that ask students to recall content knowledge [6][7][8]. Authentic assessments utilize performance samples or learning activities that encourage students to use higher-order thinking skills. Herrington and Herrington have defined seven essential characteristics of authentic assessment in categories of context, the student’s role, authentic activity, and indicators as list in the table below.

                         Herrington & Herrington's Essential Elements of Authentic Assessment
Categories Criteria
Context Requires fidelity of context to reflect the conditions under which the performance will occur (rather than contrived, artificial or de-contextualized conditions).
Student's Role Requires students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge, and to craft polished performances or products. Requires significant student time and effort in collaboration with others.
Authentic Activity Involves complex, ill structured challenges that require judgements, and a full array of tasks. Requires the assessment to be seamlessly integrated with the activity.
Indicators Provides multiple indicators of learning. Achieves validity and reliability with appropriate criteria for scoring varied products.

Leveraging Technology to Design Assessment in Project-based Learning

According to Anderson [9], opportunities afforded students today, through enhanced communication opportunities online, provide students with the opportunity to create project and workplace-based assessments which only seek to benefit the learner through peer and expert review throughout the process. The use of appropriate learning technologies can help assess the authentic nature of project- based learning more efficiently, effectively and creatively. In project-based learning, the learning process is just as important as the the products that are produced [3], however, documentation of the learning process that students engage in can present challenges for teachers to keep track of. Further to this, Anderson cautions that assessment centered learning systems have the potential to increase the workload demanded by teachers, through taking them online. Therefore, it is of vital importance that strategies are developed in the formative and summative assessment domains which provide for minimal impact on teacher workload. Learning technologies can assist in assessing student work more efficiently by exchanging, reviewing, and commenting on student work in electronic formats[9]. It is also possible to provide rapid feedback by making student work available for self and peer review in electronic format. This use of learning technologies is powerful in documenting the learning process that students engage in, in project-based learning. Creative assessments, encouraged by technologies, empower students to use tools that simulate applications present in the working world and enable them to engage in authentic assessments that test and evaluate their understanding, often leading to a global public audience.

The ability to develop students' capacity to continuously engage in reflection and to learn and unlearn over time[10] is an integral part of project-based learning. This reflective process and continuous engagement in learning requires the implementation of reflective learning tools[10]. Brown and Campoine[11] share that technology adds value by making knowledge construction more obvious and therefore helps learners become aware of the learning process. Using tools that present students' understanding to a more global audience increases the authentic and depth of accountability. It is within these opportunities that students build and experience learning in communities of reflective practice and are able to generate shared knowledge[10].

Web Based Applications

With the increasing need for students to develop 21st century learning skills, technology and the use of web based applications within the classroom has become prominent. In order to understand the need for web-based applications in educational settings, it is important to define the parameters for such applications. A web based application would describe platforms that are web-based, use an active internet connection, where primary communication comes in the form of HTTP. A more recent phenomenon has been the shift from web-based to cloud-based computing. This shift has realized the creation of user interface that is not limited to a single desktop computer. Instead, individual users have access to applications on any device, be it a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. All that is required is an active internet connection [12]. This ability to access applications from any device with internet access enables educators and students to more fluidly engage in meaningful collaboration and assessment for learning throughout the project-based learning process.

Social Media

Increased use of various forms of portable technologies (laptops, tablets, smartphones) has generated an exponential growth in the use of social media as a means to communicate and share information with others. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, social media is a form of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, videos, and other content. Within the educational setting, educators are aware of the role that social media plays in students' daily lives and look for ways to leverage this technology to support student learning. Communication, collaboration, and creativity are all aspects of social media that can be used in the formative assessment process of project-based learning; however, it is important to note that not all social media opportunities available are acceptable within classroom environments. One such stipulation that educators have to address is the issue of age restriction in relation to the students that they are teaching. Therefore, moving forward it is imperative that educators are mindful of the risks and rewards of using social media to support authentic assessment in project-based learning.

Social Media Landscape

Technological Tools for Assessment

Different tools can be used for different purposes to assess students learning in project-based learning. Below is a sample list of tools that can be used for this purpose, broken down into two categories: Digital Tools and Social Media opportunities.

Digital Tools Social Media
Digital Portfolios Edmodo
Google Forms Facebook
Weebly Twitter
Blogs Instagram
QR Codes Pinterest
Vine Today's Meet
The Answer Pad Skype
Class Dojo Schoology
Google Docs YouTube

It is important to note that as technology and platform development changes, so do the opportunities afforded to educators to use both digital tools and social media opportunities in assessing the process of project-based learning. As our list continues to develop here, there will be continuous growth surrounding access to new and innovative media tools for educators.

In further supporting colleagues, many educators blog about the tools they use in their classroom to support classroom assessment. The following weblinks below are examples specifically related to assessment.

Tips for Assessing Project-based Learning

Edutopia, a not-for-profit organization created by George Lucas Education Foundation, identifies PBL as one of their core strategies for innovative learning and reform. In an article published by Edutopia they provide 10 Tips for Assessing Project-based Learning for educators looking for strategies to guide the teaching and learning process. The following tips are listed below and fall into four distinct categories.

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Assessing Project Based Learning from Edutopia


  • Keep It Real with Authentic Products
  • Don’t Overlook Soft Skills
  • Learn from Big Thinkers


  • Use Formative Strategies to Keep Projects on Track
  • Gather Feedback Fast
  • Focus on Teamwork
  • Track Progress with Digital Tools


  • Grow Your Audience


  • Do-It-Yourself Professional Development
  • Assess Better Together

Stop Motion Artifact

Assessment in PBL

External Links


  1. Jones, B. F., Rasmussen, C. M., & Moffitt, M. C. (1997). Real-life problem solving.: A collaborative approach to interdisciplinary learning. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  2. Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn?. Educational Psychology Review, 16(3), 235-266.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Blumenfeld, P., Guzdial, M., Krajeik, J., Marx, R., Palencsar, A., & Soloway, E. (1991). Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 26(3 & 4), 369-398.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Markham, T. (2003). Project-based learning handbook: A guide to standards-focused project based learning for middle and high school teachers. Buck Institute for Education.
  5. Wagner, T. (2010). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don't teach the new survival skills our children need--and what we can do about it. Basic Books.
  6. Torrance, H. (1995). Evaluating authentic assessment: Problems and possibilities in new approaches to assessment (pp. 1-8). Buckingham: Open University Press.
  7. Herrington, J., & Herrington, A. (1998). Authentic assessment and multimedia: How university students respond to a model of authentic assessment. Higher Education Research and Development, 17 (3), 305-22.
  8. Ward, J.D. & Lee, C.L. (2002). A review of problem-based learning. Journal of family and consumer sciences education, 20 (1), 16-26.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Anderson, T. (2008). “Towards and Theory of Online Learning.” In Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Ayas, K., & Zeniuk, N. (2001). Project-based learning: building a community of of reflective practitioners. Management Learning, 32(1), 61-76.
  11. Brown, A. L. & Campione, J. C. (1996). Psychological theory and the design of innovative learning environments. On procedures, principles, and systems . In L. Schauble & R. Glaser (Eds.). Innovation in learning: New environments for education (pp. 289-325). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  12. Miller, Michael. (2009). Cloud Computing: Web Based Applications that Change the Way You Work and Collaborate Online. Que Publishing.