Boosting PBL with the aid of technology

Boosting PBL with the aid of technology
Project Based Learning (em)powered by technology!

Feeling your Project Based Learning approach is stuck in stagnant waters? Making use of learning technology can give a boost to the projects assigned in class and motivate learners.

Why use technology?
No matter how much most of us dread technology and despite the horror stories we often hear, technology can:

 1.Motivate learners
Technology is part and parcel of their daily routine and the majority of them feel confident using it. If you know that you are good at technology, you are more likely to try something new with technology rather than by using books.

2. Facilitate search (webquests)
Given the recent economic crisis, access to hard copies of reference material is becoming more and more difficult. Such material is available, free-of-charge on the Internet and gives students the opportunity to survey, select relevant material in an ocean of data and based on  that, at a later stage prioritize, evaluate and synthesize.

3. Facilitate communication and collaboration
Whether using synchronous (Skype, Lync meetings) or  asynchronous (mail, replies to blogs) means of communication on learning platforms or even social media such as Edmodo and Twitter, technology encourages communication between different communities and countries and promotes collaboration among learners from different backgrounds and cultures.

4. Enhance creativity
The outcome can be extremely impressive with web 2.0 tools such as wordclouds. Even less artistic students can be motivated to give it a try and then provide a blurb or a passage to accompany it.

5. Facilitate exciting presentations
Public speaking can be challenging even for the most experienced teacher – let alone a learner. Yet, powerful tools like PowerPoint, keynote, Prezi – among others - stimulate learners’ interest and creativity. At primary school, they always start with adding impressive photos or videos but it is a good opportunity for the teacher to explain the process of creating a presentation. It is a real life skill that they will have to resort to quite often as adults.

6. Simulate real life working environments
Communication and collaboration using technology are an indispensable part of many jobs and employers take it for granted that these skills have been acquired and developed by the employee before they pursue a career.

Most of the above are
21st Century Skills that most of us have been struggling  to integrate into our syllabus…

Tools to use
There are new tools and applications released practically every day. It is very difficult to keep track of all of them and you don’t have to use the latest one, the most expensive or  trendy app. Your goal is to help your students do some basic research and produce and at the same time ensure they feel creative and confident they can deal with the task they are assigned.  Below you can find some programmes and web 2.0 tools that I have used with my students for their projects. Most of them are free or the cost is affordable by any school. Some of them allow the user to write text, record and add video. It all depends on what you want your students to focus on: written, oral production or combine both.

Text: Ms Word, OneNote, lino.it
Word clouds: tugxedo, wordle
Audio: Vocaroo
Video: movie maker, animoto, mailvu
Animation /Cartoons: dvolver, British Council for kids website (

Click below to watch an animated video made by 3rd graders
A project by 3rd graders using a web 2.0 tool 

Problems you may encounter
1. Compatibility
Files sometimes cannot be read by users of a different operating system or files saved in older software versions look weird in the latest ones.

2. Learner's age
Pupils may not have email accounts –required by some web 2.0 tools - or parental consent to use the Internet

3. Not everybody is a digital native
Kids are usually adept at technology but it is not safe to assume that they are all computer whiz kids. Some basic instructions or training is necessary to ensure  that  everybody can follow.

4. Digital citizenship issues arising
Students may mistake learning technology for another internet or video game. There can be cases of malpractice, bullying or simply students being distracted by games or irrelevant videos and photos. Setting clear rules from the beginning of the year will reduce these problems to the minimum. (See tips and hints below)

5. Ads displayed on free web 2.0 tools
The ads displayed on the screen maybe offensive or in some cases promote sexism. Check before introducing it in class and at the start of the year raise awareness about the potential dangers arising from clicking indiscriminately on whatever attracts our attention.

Tips and hints
1. Narrow down the number of tools or software you intend to use
It takes time and sometimes effort to make the most of each tool. Don’t hesitate to give yourself and your students the opportunity to explore its full potential. The outcome is usually rewarding beyond expectations.

2. Set clear rules from day 1!
Learners need to have a clear framework from early on and you need to ensure that their learning and working environment is safe without any threats that may inhibit learning. An example of such a contract between learners and teachers can be read on this blog http://differentefl.blogspot.gr/2012/10/classroom-rules-for-11-classes.html

3. Encourage good academic habits like mentioning sources

4. Discourage learners from copy-paste practices by raising awareness and asking the class to assess each project in terms of originality.

5. Encourage pairwork and groupwork. Learners are highly likely to benefit from peer teaching

Technology can bring back to life project work and encourage students who have kept their distance from more traditional learning approaches, to be actively involved, combining fun and learning!

Dimitris Primalis




  1. Indeed technology helps in more ways than we suspect and those of us who are not perfectly at ease with it are thankful for the fact that students get computer expertise through computer education and then apply it to what we ask of them. In fact they produce much better power points or animations that I would be producing myself. In other words drop the idea with the students and they will find a way to materialise it.

    1. Exactly! Sometimes EFL teachers fear that they need to prove they are ICT authorities but in reality it is the content of the students' work they need to focus on.

  2. Dear Dimitris,

    I will echo Zafi in that the students can always assist us with their tech knowledge - it is great to learn from them, and if their instruction to us also takes place in English, what could be better? : )

    Webquests are something I would like to do more of with my students and thanks for including this here! I can only imagine that the feeling of discovery leads to some great learning.

    Something else I feel I need to try with them is animation. Thanks for the list of great tools there!

    A great post, Dimitris - sharing with colleagues for sure!

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