10 Things That Happen When Students Engage in Project-Based Learning

We often hear about the need for students to learn how to program in order to be ready for STEM fields and the Information Economy. It’s what we’ve been hearing for over a decade. However, there’s a fascinating piece from the Washington Post that explores how the so-called “soft-skills” might be even more vital than ever.

For years, Google focused on hiring the best computer science students who excelled in their core content area, positing that innovation required the best computer science minds in the world. But when they tested this hypothesis, they were shocked by the results.

According to the article:

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last.

The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Don’t get me wrong. Students need to master content standards. But Google’s survey proves that many teachers have been saying for years: that the so-called “soft skills” aren’t soft at all. Fortunately, when students engage in PBL, they develop these skills and disciplines needed to thrive in the Creative Economy.

But it goes beyond economics. When students engage in PBL, they experience the sheer joy of learning. They are able to hit a state of creative flow and learn that there’s something deeply profound about creativity. They become self-directed, independent thinkers.

The following are some of the trends that I notice when students engage in project-based learning. This is not a scientific study so much as observations I’ve noticed from my own experiences. However, I am currently working on a larger literature review on the benefits of PBL. I’ll be sharing it out within the next month. Many of the ideas in the following video are backed up by research (like the soft skills, the “stickiness” of information, and the moderate increases in student achievement).   

#1: Students learn how to engage in meaningful collaboration.

When students engage in PBL, they often get the chance to work on collaborative projects, where they work interdependently to solve problems. Initially, this was really challenging for me as a teacher because I hated group projects as a student. I hated doing all the work and then watching everyone else get the credit. But then I realized something. Collaboration isn’t just a skill.

It’s a discipline. It’s something that takes years of practice. So, I started to embed structures that would help guarantee that every student participated in collaborative projects. It didn’t work every time but slowly, I watched students learn how to engage in meaningful collaboration.   

When students genuinely collaborate in PBL, they learn how to speak up and listen. They learn how to ask incisive questions, how to contribute to the team, and how to give and receive critical feedback. Which leads to the next point . . .

#2: Students learn to see nuance and multiple perspectives.

When I did that History Day Project in the eighth grade, I encountered perspectives on the integration of baseball that I would have never experienced in reading a textbook. The same thing happened with my eighth grade students. When they were immersed in a PBL environment, they got to wade into the nuance of multiple perspectives.

Teachers can tap into this idea by specifically asking students to consider new perspectives. During the initial inquiry phase, it can help to let students ask multiple questions on their own and then share their questions together. When they engage in research, it can help to ask students to find sources from various perspectives and deliberately wade into the nuance of the ideas. As they ideate together, you can utilize a structured brainstorming approach that encourages them to examine ideas from multiple angles.

#3: They become divergent thinkers.

The best project-based learning units encourage students to tackle problems from a unique perspective. This is at the heart of divergent thinking. It’s the ability to explore problems from different angles, use materials in different ways, and ultimately grow into innovatorsHere’s where creative constraint comes in. Teachers often have to work with limited resources or tight schedules. They have to hack the standards to tie them into a PBL unit. But in the process, they are helping students to think outside the box by “thinking inside the box.” Here’s what I mean:  

When students learn to “think inside the box,” they are practicing the type of divergent thinking that they will need in the future. This is the type of thinking that can’t be replaced with artificial intelligence or automated with a machine.

#4: They learn project management.

When I talk to people in business, in the arts, and in the STEM fields, I often hear people mention that they wished they had learned how to do project management when they were younger.  If we want students to think like artists, entrepreneurs, and engineers, they need the chance to engage in project management. When students have full ownership of the project process, they learn how to engage in project management. Here, they are able to set goals, monitor progress, make adjust, and reflect on their learning.

Project management is about more than just setting a schedule. It’s the idea of following through on your plans and continuing with tasks even when nobody is looking over your shoulder. It’s what happens when you learn how to set meaningful, realistic goals and break those down into tasks.

#5: They develop a maker mindset.

One of the most tragic things I hear students say is “I’m just not the creative type.” I don’t buy it. I don’t believe there is a “creative type” out there. We’re all creative. Every one of us. And PBL is a great chance for students to own the entire creative process, leading to a maker mindset where they can think like designers, artists, and engineers. When this happens, students are able to embrace a larger definition of creativity and value the creative contributions of those around them.   

We often hear that our current students will work in jobs that don’t exist right now. But here’s another reality: our current students will be the ones who create those jobs. They will have to rewrite the rules.  Some students will be engineers or artists or accountants. Some will work in technology, others in traditional corporate spaces and still others in social or civic spaces. But every single one of them will need to think creatively in their jobs.

As students work through PBL, they are able to experience a broad spectrum of creative thinking. They learn how to think like an artist but also think like an engineer or a hacker. At one moment, they might be building empathy by doing an interview. In another moment, they might be doing prototyping in an engineering project and or engaging in information literacy for a publishing project.

Over time, they see that creative work is interdisciplinary. And this ultimately leads to a maker mindset, where students learn to view the world differently and find new solutions to complex problems. Which leads to the next point . . .

#6: They become problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

PBL encourages students to solve complex problems by engaging in inquiry, research, and ideation. This is the kind of work that you don’t accomplish in filing out a packet or doing a worksheet. It requires students to view problems from multiple angles and sometimes even navigate multiple systems in order to solve these complex problems.

Not only are they solving the problems but they are taking it to the next level and actually creating the solutions. So, they are able to see that problem-solving actually connects to real-world contexts. I remember when we were doing our Tiny House projects and a student said, “I get it now. I understand why people need to know proportional reasoning.” He needed a complex problem, rooted in a real-world experience, for that concept to make sense.

Note that this doesn’t always work. There are moments when it gets frustrating. However, that’s also part of the problem-solving process. Students get the opportunity to fail forward. Which leads to my next point . . .

#7: They develop iterative thinking.

Project-based learning includes a phase for revision. In some cases, it’s more about feedback and revision while other projects require testing and revision. But the idea is the same. Students test, revise, and iterate. This is one of the areas where I see a big disconnect between school (where you are graded once and move on) versus life (where you are constantly improving and iterating).

I want students to learn how to figure out what’s working, make sense out of what’s failing, and then create a better iteration.  But this requires a shift toward mastery-based grading as well as the freedom to make mistakes. For all the talk of “high standards,” iterative thinking only works when students experience slack. And yet, when they have this permission to fail, they can then improve their work and develop endurance.

#8: They are more likely to develop a growth mindset.

Iterative thinking ultimately leads to a growth mindset. It’s counterintuitive but the best way for students to have higher standards is to experience the permission to fail. This doesn’t mean we embrace failure but that we treat failing as a part of the learning process. After all, fail-ure is permanent and fail-ing is temporary.

Note that failing isn’t fun. It actually sucks when stuff doesn’t work out. And that’s an important reminder. Sometimes PBL isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s really, really frustrating. I have had students cry when something didn’t work. It wasn’t because of a grade, either. They were simply so into their project that they wanted it to work. But eventually, when it did work, they were able to develop a growth mindset.

#9: They grow more empathetic.

One of the PBL approaches we will explore is design thinking, which is centered around the idea of empathy. In some models, empathy is the starting point. Other times, it occurs in the research and ideation phases. But regardless of when it happens, if students are going to launch heir work to an audience, they need to design products out of a place of empathy.

This is one of those areas that goes far beyond the corporate world. We have a crisis of empathy in the U.S. I see it every time I go to Facebook. People talk over one another and lob easy insults at the opposite side. Trapped in their echo chambers, they move into a place where they miss the pain that others are experiencing. But I think we can change this as educators when we ask students to engage in empathy-driven design thinking.

#10: They increase in metacognition.

When I first saw the metacognition cycle, I thought, “Man, this seems so similar to aspects of PBL.” This is because PBL encourages students to plan, monitor, and reflect throughout the entire process.

So, if we want this for students, they need to work on projects. Real projects. The kind of projects that they get to own. And ultimately that requires a teacher who is wiling to take the leap and make PBL a reality.

Source: 10 Things That Happen When Students Engage in Project-Based Learning – John Spencer

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Does “Digital Empathy” Work in Virtual Psychotherapy?

Digital empathy is “traditional empathic characteristics such as concern and caring for others expressed through computer-mediated interactions.” A recent study suggests that clients felt their psychotherapist was more empathic and supportive in a remote setting than an in-person setting.

Another study found that virtual group therapy can be as effective as in-person group therapy. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, much of psychotherapy has moved online. Two new studies take a look at whether teletherapy and video conference therapy are helpful. Can empathy connect clients with their therapists despite the virtual divide? Has psychotherapy adapted to moving online? The results may be surprising for some.

In one study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers found that clients felt like their psychotherapist was significantly more empathic and supportive in the remote setting compared to in person. This is important because, depending on the type of psychotherapy, whether a client feels connected to the psychotherapist can be an essential factor in a positive outcome in treatment.

“Digital empathy” has been defined as “traditional empathic characteristics such as concern and caring for others expressed through computer-mediated communications.” Further models of digital empathy have expanded the characteristics of “digital empathy”:

  • Ability to analyze and evaluate another’s internal state (empathy accuracy)
  • A sense of identity and agency (self-empathy)
  • Recognize, understand and predict other’s thoughts and emotions (cognitive empathy)
  • Feel what others feel (affective empathy)
  • Role play (imaginative empathy)
  • Be compassionate to others (empathic concern) via digital media

The study examines online therapy sessions that took place via Skype and WhatsApp video calls. About half the clients used desktops or laptop computers, with the other half using a mix of tablets or smartphones. Almost 90% of the therapists used a computer.

The research found that therapists felt like they could offer the same amount of empathy whether in person or virtually. Surprisingly, patients felt more empathetically connected to and supported by their therapist in the virtual setting, compared to in person. These findings build upon prior therapy research conducted before the pandemic, which found that empathy can indeed reach across virtual borders and be effective in virtual psychotherapy.

Another study from 2021 confirms that group psychotherapy can be done effectively virtually. In fact, some clients found remote group work even more helpful than in person, but that this is not the case for everyone.

These studies do raise the point that personal preference and self-selection may have a lot to do with how comfortable people are with virtual psychotherapy and teletherapy and positive treatment outcomes. Clients who respond well in virtual settings are likely those already at ease with video conferencing technology and are able to feel comfortable and have privacy at home.

The same goes for the therapist. Research has found that therapists who feel most comfortable and effective in offering virtual psychotherapy typically had offered it previously, even before the pandemic.

Psychotherapy has transitioned online effectively for many people, in spite of the limitations of technological issues, sound delays, and the difficulty with perceiving micro-expressions. Clients should feel empowered to assess whether virtual therapy is a good fit for their needs.

It is likely that many clients and therapists will continue to choose to stay online, given the positive results and ability for digital empathy to exist alongside the convenience of scheduling, less commute time, and being able to communicate safely without masks. The good news is that virtual psychotherapy can be offered in a way that clients feel is supportive and effective and will likely remain a mainstay platform for the delivery of psychotherapy.

In Praise of Empathy: An Application of Social Psychiatry

In the business world and in popular culture, empathy has gained steady prominence. Daniel Goleman popularized the term emotional intelligence (or EI) in 1995, opining that it is as equal if not more important than IQ.1 Later, in a Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Leader,” Goleman discusses EI as the sine qua non of leadership and again as a core communication skill.2

The business practice of design thinking encourages organizations to research customer empathy as key to understanding marketplace product or service need and solution design. Empathy is all the more important given our growing multicultural reality.

What is empathy? Can professional consultants, coaches, physicians, attorneys, MBAs, human resource professionals, clergy, therapists, and others think deeper about the merits of empathy? In what follows, I will explore these questions.

Two Types of Empathy

While several definitions exist, 2 generic types of empathy are evident. First, one-way empathy is the capacity to relate, be simpatico, or read others. George Herbert Mead called this “taking the role of the other.” Hence, we thoughtfully consider others and their viewpoint during our interaction. This is often easier said than done in today’s climate of extreme views.

We may have to practice a maturity once voiced by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Second, there is two-way empathy, which includes the above, but embraces the communication of our understanding back to the individual we are relating to.

Practicing Empathy

The communication of empathy with another provides a supportive context, even a healing aspect for both patient and practitioner whether coach, consultant, physician, or therapist. Two-way empathy supports a patient’s self-validation and can encourage further self-exploration.

As change agents, we are a thought-partner who allows a patient to move to deeper levels of self-exploration with our empathetic communication. Moreover, isolation diminishes and interpersonal effectiveness increases. Empathy helps us feel less alone, especially if it is two-way empathic communication.

When we converse with another we can verbally and nonverbally acknowledge what we are hearing. The preeminent psychologist Carl R. Rogers, PhD, advocated for this style of communication.3 He suggested empathy was an attitude, a check in with another individual to confirm understanding of their comments. This promotes communication.

With this type of empathy, we are not offering interpretations of what we hear or see or sense. We are not searching for unconscious processes, nor are we searching for how to disagree. While somewhat superficial, this empathy type is critical to promote self-esteem and a sense of safety in others during our interaction.

We bolster our own self-concept while also supporting the self-concept of others when we acknowledge understanding (whether we agree with their comments or not). With two-way empathy, we convey safety and trust in a patient or other client without judgement. We thereby model kindness, general understanding, and tolerance. Moreover, we hope the patient builds or exercises growth in their own empathy.

There is a deeper empathy too that should be acknowledged. The noted psychiatrist Heinz Kohut, MD, calls this vicarious introspection.4 Here, we move beyond mere recognition and communication of our understanding of another’s immediate experience. Instead, we attempt to see another’s bigger life situation, their past experience, and likely its influence on their immediate experience with us. To ourselves we may ask several questions:

– What is the entirety or the whole of the other’s perceived situation?

– What are conscious and unconscious elements of a patient’s life history?

– What might it be like to be the other?

We may or may not communicate our answers to such questions to the other person, but we strive to understand more deeply what is being communicated. Kohut suggests we value empathy as a facilitative method to enable a patient to receive interpretations. Of course, not all patients can tolerate the depth of our empathetic response. Hence, practitioners must gauge patient acceptance while we simultaneously gauge our ability to communicate sensitive areas in our interactions.

Coaching has value here, without being overly therapeutic. Organization consultants and others might not be sufficiently experienced to embrace this empathy type. Therapists, on the other hand, often make use of vicarious empathy.

Another aspect of empathy can be identified as a here and now or moment to moment style of patient interaction. We strive to be in the patient’s shoes in total, as the psychiatrist R.D. Laing, MD, voiced. Laing even embraced this deep type of empathy for use with his psychotic patients. To merge with another using a here and now approach, we are aware of a patient’s movements, postures, gestures, facial expressions, comments, and pauses in communication.

Several human growth impromptu approaches also embrace verbal and nonverbal sensitivity to a patients’ total presentation. These include J.L. Moreno, MD’s “Sociodrama and Psychodrama,” Frederick S. Perl, MD, PhD’s Gestalt Therapy, and Daniel Glasser, MD’s Reality Therapy.

Here and now micro practice is most suitable for experienced professionals. We think and feel our way into a patient’s inner world and undertake their journey as partners. As practitioners we grasp our patients’ struggle and help articulate and explore their concerns through empathy. Reflection on a patient’s comments takes place, yet content, feelings, and interpretations may all help promote client development.

Concluding Thoughts

As mentioned, the approaches to empathy explored above may in part overlap. Here and now empathy however is best applied in a therapeutic context, while the other 2 forms may be most useful with coaches and organization consultants. Some approaches may be useful in tandem and not applied exclusively.

Nevertheless, the goal is patient recognition that they are understood. Being understood may facilitate their problem solving and/or growth. We must use empathy with positive intention, and never use it with negative intention (as a means to psychopathic, sadistic, or other selfish ends).

Other forms of empathy remain unexplored in this essay, such as self-empathy and societal empathy for national and/or global epic conditions such as mass shootings, COVID-19 deaths, wars, starvations, threats to democracy, etc. In all its forms, empathy challenges us to a higher level of humanness. We remain to ourselves and to others in praise of empathy as a vehicle for humanizing patients’ lives.


Dr Green is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow.

Source: In Praise of Empathy: An Application of Social Psychiatry


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The Art of Deep Listening To Resolve Conflict

A lack of effective listening between colleagues is one of the main causes of workplace conflicts, a problem that has been on the increase during the pandemic.

Before we have even stepped into the room, we are likely to have our own agenda which disrupts our ability to truly listen and resolve issues. But what can be done about it to improve communication and resolve conflict, and why does it matter?

Poor listening and communication are at the root of many relationship breakdowns, conflicts and disputes and lead to talent loss, poor productivity, low morale, missing deadlines, failure to complete on projects, loss of sales and a breakdown in trust and relationships.

In business truly listening to employees, colleagues and stakeholders means seriously entertaining their ideas, thoughts and feelings, whilst simultaneously putting your own ideas and instinctive responses on hold.

Why The Pandemic Made Listening Harder

Being asked to work from home and attend frequent online meetings has meant that we have less access to verbal and non-verbal cues, body language, lipreading and facial emotional reading. Turn-taking is difficult in these sorts of meetings.

If listening and speaking are harder, then people have less opportunity to express themselves. In addition, we may be distracted by other things going on at home and our mood and mental health may have been suffering. A lost ability to socialize at work means that meetings are often now solely functional. Furthermore, whilst wearing them may be required, masks have increased communication and listening problems too.

Why Listening Matters

When we communicate, we are subconsciously conducting a test for trust and respect. The test is continuous, it happens from moment-to-moment and is based on what people see, hear or feel. What they want to know more than anything else is ‘Do I matter?’ and ‘Am I heard?’

We also pay most attention to the things that directly concern us or are relevant to our own situation, our own needs, interests, fears and concerns, which means we can often listen from our own point of view rather than the speakers.

The message that a person or organization intends to give is frequently not the message that the other receives. Even when we feel we are expressing ourselves with great clarity, if either or both sides don’t truly listen to what is being said or don’t share the same meaning in the message there will be failures in communication. Not feeling heard can affect work relationships which can result in deep resentment, frustration and conflict.

Tips of how to use deep listening to resolve conflict.

  1. Understand that every conflict has two components: emotional and rational. When a person experiences high emotion in response to a situation or an exchange with another person, the rational, thinking part of the brain will not come into play until they have dealt with the emotional hijacking of the brain. It is physically impossible for someone to switch to logical thinking when their amygdala has created an emotional fight or flight response.
  • Acknowledge a person’s emotional state with an empathetic response. In instances where an emotional response is taking place, the first step to resolving the situation involves expressing empathy. You do this by saying something like ‘It sounds like you are feeling very frustrated’, or ‘I can see that you are upset by this’.
  • Be curious about what it is that is bothering them. If you are aware of and respectful of the other person’s needs, interests, fears and concerns then that is a great opening for good communication. Equally understand that the surface level of conflict is usually just that and there may be deeper issues involved; you may be missing subtle cues or underlying messages. Try not to interrupt or jump to conclusions.
  • Stand in the other person’s shoes. Even if only for a brief moment in time, try to see the world as the other person sees it, rather than how you see it. If you can do this then the person that you are communicating with will begin to have trust in you.
  • Show you are listening. Make eye contact, be present, don’t multi-task at the same time, turn your phone and the tv off, and pay attention to what the other person is saying rather thinking about your own response. Speaking to someone who gives the impression that they are not listening will only escalate the situation further.
  • Reflect back. Unless we take the important step of reflecting back to the speaker what we thought we heard and checking that our interpretation is correct, then we have no real way of knowing that we have understood accurately. Don’t tell them what they are feeling but summarise the important bits by using phrases like ‘I think you are saying’…’ and ‘If I heard you correctly…’
  • You don’t need to have all the answers.  Sometimes people just want to offload or vent and they don’t want fixing.  It is ok to not always know what to say. The important thing is to be present and there for them and to have created a safe space for them to tell you how they are feeling.
  • Tell them your reaction if relevant. Give the speaker some information about your response to their message. Don’t attack on what has been said but add some value to the conversation, describing your reaction rather than criticising the speaker.

By: Jane Gunn , Renowned Mediator and Conflict Specialist, http://www.janegunn.co.uk

Source: The art of deep listening to resolve conflict – HR News


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How Can We Make More Empathetic Technology?

According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

There are three types of empathy: cognitive, where you take on the viewpoint of another person; emotional, where you are able to feel for the other person; and compassionate, which is a mix of the two. Empathy can be expressed via body language, too. An often-overlooked fourth category of empathy is motor empathy, where one repeatedly mirrors another’s actions.

Empathy is a vital part of our society, and many global organizations tout the importance of empathy when it comes to being an effective leader.

Source: How Can We Make More Empathetic Technology?


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