Some Key Elements of CBL

CBL thoughtfully incorporates qualities from many successful approaches to teaching and learning as well as ideas from design, entertainment, mountaineering and others. I believe that quality instructional approaches build on the best ideas of the past, draw from the current context, and look to the future. Cooperative learning, project based learning, problem based, experiential, cooperative, inquiry based, etc. learning have common roots and have informed each other over time. it is in this ongoing analysis, adoption, adaption process that leads to growth and innovation. I see CBL as another voice in this discussion and believe that just as PBL has informed CBL, the reverse is true as well. This is apparent in the PBL common craft video that now incorporates a challenge.

In the end the goal is to develop the most appropriate methodology to educate, engage, prepare and empower today’s students.
Here are some of the key elements of CBL. They are offered to continue the discussion.
Student and teacher directed – students are shaping the learning plan from the beginning cooperatively with the teacher. The teacher has a responsibility to guide the process but does not have to design, research and implement the entire experience. CBL advocates an environment where everyone has the freedom and authority to learn and teach.
A challenge, not a question – this is a subtle but critical difference. CBL does not ask the students to do something – it challenges them to take on a real contextual issue and do something about it. To make a difference while learning,  rather than learning to make a difference later. Almost a “bet you can’t” type of approach. Think about the difference of being asked to do something or being challenged to do it.
Contextual and real – the challenge is not something that is contrived or remote to the learner. It should be immediate to their interests, their community needs and can be acted upon in a way that impacts their school, their community or their homes directly. It demands that students (and teachers) not jump to the easiest and most immediate solution.
Technology rich – it takes the the collaborative, social, media rich world and tools that students are immersed in outside of school and applies them directly to the learning process. From Big Idea, to research, to implementation, to publishing results, technology is critical to the process and is controlled by the students and teachers together. Appropriate, real, 21st century skills based integration of technology.
It expands time and space – CBL is something that is done in a larger context. It should take students out of the classroom and into the world. Not just sitting around desks in discussion but into the field (physical and virtual) researching, conferring with experts and meeting with community leaders. CBL attempts to transcend the period, bell schedule, the department,the grade level, the walls, the bus schedule or any artificial barrier that can box in the learning process. It has only been in the last century that education has been confined to the four walls of a classroom. It is time to expand the mission and get the community involved in educating students.
Solutions are implemented and the impact evaluated – the CBL process does not end at the presentation or report phase. The solution must be implemented in a specific context with a specific audience. For example if the solution is a PSA then it should be implemented  and evaluated. Through a research plan and process students will determine if their solution was effective with their target population and identify why or why not and how they would do things differently. If needed and time allows they can go through the design and implementation all over again to see if they can achieve better results.
It is not about the right answer – Failure is encouraged – Just like like in life there is not one correct answer to the challenges. Yes, there may be specific right answers to the guiding questions (and this is where content standards can be brought into the discussion) but in the end more than likely the students will be face with multiple solutions that could work. They will take the knowledge they have gained and make a decision on a solution. Then they will test it by the fire of implementation. They will fail, evaluate, try again, maybe fail again, and the succeed. All the while learning as they go in a deep, real manner.
Assessment is ongoing and authentic – the challenge process allows for assessment to be done over the life of the challenge and embraces authentic methods. Instead of the standard report students may create business plans that are used to raise funding for implementation or a policy brief to sway legislators or a journal article documenting their results.  The standard end of project “read the slides presentation” becomes  a pitch to stakeholders on why their solution should be implemented on  a larger scale or a report to funders on the effectiveness of the solution.   Content and communications captured in the digital environment (through text, video and audio reflections) allow for assessment of students and teams depth and breadth of understanding. The assessors are teachers, parents, community members, experts and anyone that has an actual stake in the solution.
CBL starts with the view that our students will need to be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, individuals with a “watch me” attitude when faced with the “bet you can’t do it” the world is going to throw at them.
I think this is an important time to discuss what we are trying to achieve with our educational system and if the tried and true methods are able to achieve these goals. What does a successful graduate look like? What will he/she need to succeed? Is education only abut preparing for the future? Can all learning be measured by standardized tests? etc.

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Copyright © 2013 Mark H. Nichols