PBL: an appeal to the ego

I’ve only had a few hours sleep, so this post might seem rambling, jumbled and incoherent … oh, wait – that’s my usual writing style. And why have I only had a few hours sleep? After all, it’s the school holidays – I should really be enjoyed too much sleep, right? Well tomorrow I have to run a workshop on PBL and you know me, a little bit lax on the time-management skills and thus frequently leaving things to the last minute. But I don’t want this post to be about my poor organisational skills – that would be really egotistical and self-indulgent. Hang on again – what’s the title of this post? Ah, yes – ego! OK. Let’s get started then.

The other day one of my colleagues shared a video on my facebook wall. It cracked me up for two reasons. One, because it told me how well my colleague knows me and two, because the video is so accurate (and really funny!). I’ll let you watch the video before I continue with trying to make some kind of point about ‘ego’.

Watching that video a few days before you have to run a 75 minute workshop is both good and bad. Good for the attendees, bad for the speaker. Everyone has been to a session like this – most likely multiple times. You might have even given a session like this. Actually, many teachers probably give presentations like this multiple times in one day. You know what I mean – this is your class, or has been your class, right? It’s probably ironic (and not even intended hipster ironic) that I am going to show this video at the very beginning of my PBL workshop. There are two reasons for it. One, it is a humorous representation of why teacher-centred learning is an unhealthy addiction. And two, I want to use it to say that this is NOT how I will be running my workshop.

But here is the really irony … I stayed up until 4am this morning so I could finish a video that I was making for my presentation. You see, I have all of this great information on PBL that I wrote-up as part of my literature review for my draft research proposal and I really want to share it with the teachers attending my workshop. I know as a teacher that I feel more secure about giving a new teaching method a go if there is some kind of research to back it up. It’s old skool to think that way, but so be it – lots of people think that way too. My problem was how to share this information (mostly quotes from researchers) without reading it from a PowerPoint slide. I asked my husband, Lee, what he likes in a presentation and he said ‘less talking, more visuals’. That’s probably a typical response to that question. So I thought making a video in iMovie would work and I stayed up until 4am making that video.

I know I’m tired cos I haven’t got to my point yet, have I? Basically what I want to say is this: preparing for this 75 minute workshop gave me a deeper understanding of what’s so good about PBL. It’s immersion. It’s ego. There is a reason why that guy in the video is so proud of the video he made – because he made it. Project-learning is ego-driven. The beginning stage of the project is the investigation – this requires the individual to become immersed in the questions and content related to the project. For me, I was thinking ‘How am I going to get all of my knowledge and experience of PBL across to these teachers in an engaging and effective manner?’ and ‘How can I generate the same level of passion for project-learning that I have?’ I looked through all of my previous presentation materials, I read my blog posts about my class projects, I read my draft research proposal. I wrote lots of lists and notes about what to include and when.

Then I moved on to the product stage – making a video. This video isn’t meant to last the whole workshop, it’s just another mode of communicating important ideas with the teachers. During the making of the video I had to ask technical questions on twitter and search them on google. Communicating. I had to think about copyright, so I used FlickrCC to get images and Jamendo for the music. Problem-solving. I had to think carefully about the types of images and music to include, as well as the coloured backgrounds and style of font. Creative thinking. During this process I was so driven to complete the project. It was 10.30pm when I decided to make the film and 4am when I finished. What forced me to keep working long into the night? I want to say passion. I know that’s part of the answer. But the real driver was ego. Even though my eyelids were scratching my eyeballs and my back was bent like a crowbar, I kept working. I would not sleep until the video was uploaded to YouTube. Why? Because I was desperate to share it with my twitter colleagues. Sheer ego. This, for Orwell, was the key driver for most writers: Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. (Why I Write, 1946)

Ego is at the guts of PBL. And that’s a great thing. Just like sheer egoism is a key motive for teachers to share their ideas and experiences with teaching via a blog or twitter or a conference presentation, so too is the product/presentation element of PBL a key motive for students to keep working tirelessly on their projects. Ego, I believe, isn’t a dirty word. I do hope my fellow PBL educators aren’t offended by this brazen reflection on PBL. I think we should embrace this appeal to ego as an important element of PBL’s success with students.

I finally finished my video, and I really am proud of it. Of course I am well aware of the intense irony of the situation – I will most likely end up looking just like the guy in the video about failing to communicate. I will stand there with a goofy, proud look on my face as my audience watches the video I created. They will be bored … after all, it’s just words on a screen coupled with some pictures and music. It’s not effective learning. Oh well, it made me feel good completing it and it now feels awesome sharing it with you on my blog.


12 thoughts on “PBL: an appeal to the ego

  1. While I agree in a sense, when I engage in PBL I am less driven by an egoism borne of “I want people to think I’m clever” and more from an egoism borne of “I don’t want people to think I’m an ass”. Same kettle of fish, different perspective? Maybe. πŸ™‚

    • Yes Ronda – I do think it is the same kettle of fish! And I think Orwell would agree – it is still about the ego, but of course that was only one motive of four that he outlines. I think when it comes to presenting our learning to a real-world audience we are driven to do better because our ego is at stake … and when it comes to presenting I think ego might drive us more in terms of ‘I want to make a difference, I want this presentation to have traction for the audience’. Make sense? Thanks for your comment!

    • Thanks Ben. You know, I think there is an element of truth to that … it takes passionate people to start using PBL in a school that doesn’t have anyone else doing it. But if you can see a model of passion and give PBL a go, passion for PBL is inevitable. I think that PBL can actually spark passion in teachers – makes them more excited to be in the classroom. Haha – but I’m probably just dreaming!

  2. An interesting observation. I wonder though how much ego also drives the traditional transmissive approach? “I am the teacher”, “You need to learn from me” – and so in this sense, arguably PBL is about diminishing the teacher ego, and – following your argument – leveraging the student ego as a force for learning.

    • Yup – that’s right. The ego is the force of learning in PBL … and since the student is in control of the learning, it’s their ego that’s being engaged by the project. Thanks for making my dumb post sound smart!

  3. I agree wtih Nordin that PBL can influence the student’s ego into wanting to show how much better they are can do things than their classmates…if they put the effort in.
    Bianca, thanks once again in making me think about doing something with my classes again this year. I try doing PBL…and succeed only half the time. It’s time to try and try again. Getting it right in the long run is part of the journey of empowering the ego.
    Hope your presentation works/worked well! Good luck, and all the best for the year.
    *Trying to think of ways to get PBL working for the bottom Year 10 class…*

    • You can only try! I don’t succeed all of the time either – sometimes the project is great and sometimes it’s just mediocre.
      I actually found that PBL worked best with my ‘lower’ classes. Year 10 is perfect as the pressure of the SC has been removed. Make sure that you focus on the project and not grades or success … think of the learning. Make sure the record one thing they learned each lesson!

  4. Great reflection, Bianca ( despite the sleep deprivation ). I agree with the concept of ego for teachers and students. And it’s not a bad thing to be driven by the idea of wanting success or fearing failure ( not looking bad). Obviously wanting success is a more desired outcome. Getting students passionate about their work and making it public hopefully does drive them to greater effort and success. Hey, I shouldn’t be driven by flag counters and clustrmaps on my new blog but knowing people from other countries are actually interested in what I have to say does drive me a bit to write another post πŸ˜‰

    Love your work. Good luck with the presentation. I’m sure they won’t be bored!

    • Haha – it’s true, those markers of success that seem silly to other really do impact our sense of accomplishment. Those things make you and your work feel valued by others. Thanks for your feedback – the presentation was awesome!

  5. Hi Bianca, I really enjoyed this blog. I am a pre-service English teacher in Kelli’s class and it is great to read some first-hand recounts of PBL in action.

    I’m very interested in the shift of focus from the teacher’s ego in transmission-based pedagogy to the student’s ego fueling motivation for success in PBL. Perhaps I have been reading too much expectancy-value theory recently, but I do wonder about students for whom ego and a fear of failing in front of their peers might result in a reluctance to take risks or work hard in the first place. Have you experienced this in your classroom and, if so, how do you respond to it?

    • Hi Rachel,
      Thanks for checking out my blog and posting a comment – I know it can be super intimidating!
      I like your point about students being reluctant to take risks, it’s a good point and something teachers using a PBL-style approach need to keep in mind. In fact, it needs to be at the forefront of your mind because one of the central aspects of PBL is classroom culture. We really want to create a culture where students feel comfortable taking risks and doing new things. I think this comes with time and definitely depends on the rapport that the teacher has built with the students. Baby steps with PBL is essential!

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