The Problem with the “Public Audience” in PBL

Project Based Learning, PBL, Project-Based Learning

Is a Public Audience enough to create meaningful learning experiences and successfully motivate students? A “Public Audience” could be anyone with a SSN, or a heartbeat for that matter. Using this Essential Element to guide our design of meaningful project-based experiences could lead us astray. We might fall into the trap of selecting the class, a sister class, the principal or parents over and over and over again. Or perhaps we attempt to corral anyone who’s available in the final hour of our project. Does this help us achieve the spirit of high-quality Project Based Learning?

I propose we go beyond the Buck Institute’s 8th Essential Element of a “Public Audience” and ensure we incorporate an “Authentic Audience” in the design of our PBL experiences.

Authentic Audiences should/can be…

  • Outside of the school community.

  • Used at the beginning of a project to launch.

  • Solicited during a project as feedback providers and instructional resources.

  • Involved at the end of a project with final products, presentations and services.

  • Often stakeholders in the issue or problem.

  • Subject matter experts.

  • Real-world professionals.

Believe it or not, brokering the support of an Authentic Audience is easier than you think.

Success Story: On the second day of an Introduction to PBL workshop, a teacher cold-emailed a local business to see if she could rally some troops to participate in her project. She received a reply 14 minutes later. The business owner eagerly replied that they’d love to help! She laid out her requests and they solidified dates and commitments. Students later reported that having an authentic audience involved in the project motivated them to produce higher quality work and raised the stakes for them personally.

Watch this video to see how Jesse Wade Robinson, a teacher at High Tech High incorporates Authentic Audiences in Science to motivate students as well as help students master the Next Generation Science Standards

Take Action for your next project! Think carefully about these questions as prepare:

Who: Who could you contact to get involved with your project?

When: When will you contact them? And when will you need their support?

Why: How does person you’re selecting meet the criteria for authentic audiences listed above?

Where: Will they come to you? Will your students go to them? Will they get involved in-person or by phone, Skype or email?

Want to dive deeper? Visit our PBL Consulting Services Page to learn more about our immersive workshop on Project Based Learning.

See additional examples of educator created Project Based Learning Units on our PBL Sample Project Resource Page. ​

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