Project Based Learning: Public Product

The Final Step

Carefully Examining Student Products
Draft of Public Product for National History Day

A few years ago, one student was headed out of town, and I had about five minutes after class to communicate an assignment’s criteria. I instructed Chris (pseudonym), a future small business owner, to develop instructions for a process that he was already good at that in his workplace. In order to complete this task, I asked him to look at the resources on our Learning Management System (LMS) and in the textbook, and to get me a set of instructions for completing a process. Any process. I had little confidence in Chris’s ability to complete this process at a proficient level; like the vast majority of my students in ENG 131, Chris was a vocational education student, and his interests remained not in the classroom, but in the context of his business and his hobbies – literacies that I did not, at the time, value as relevant to the writing classroom. Therefore, I thought that, without direct instruction from me, he would need assistance in writing his instructions clearly and concisely, and assistance in formatting his instructions so that they were relevant to a potential reader. 

However, when Chris returned, he handed me an instructional report that was far better than any I received from students in the past, and that was much better than his prior assignments. He worked at a local medical marijuana (MMJ) shop, and he developed a set of instructions for rolling and smoking a blunt, and he accompanied the report with pictures, captions, and well-cited sources, even though this last piece was not part of the assignment. He had already passed the report out to several customers, and he had received feedback, which he then integrated into the report. The final product became a brochure that could easily be passed out in his MMJ shop. The writing product was incredible, and it appeared to me that this was because of three things: being in charge of his own learning, constructing the knowledge necessary to develop the report, and solving a relevant workplace problem. This praxis, a continual process of “reflection and action,” (Freire, 1970, p. 182), is affirmed by Freire, in that the “cognitive dimensions of the literacy process must include the relationships with men with their world” (p. 181), and that the adult literacy process must “engage learners in…constant problematization” (p. 184). Furthermore, the writing pieces he produced for the rest of the term were of much better quality than earlier in the term, which addressed the issue with respect to the transfer of learning.  The issues present in previous iterations of this assignment did not exist in Chris’s subsequent work. Chris was interested in the project, and he was attentive to the steps needed to accomplish his instruction writing; the project became relevant to him through being situated in his workplace; his confidence developed “through feedback that highlight[ed] the relationship” (Mohamed et al, 2016, p. 139) between Chris’s efforts and his results; and finally, Chris was ultimately satisfied with his final product because he was immediately able to use the product in his workplace. For Chris, this project was authentic. 

Public Product

The Hallmark of this element — that is — the reason that we can call this element the “Gold Standard” is due to the PUBLIC part of public product. John Larmer, former editor-in-chief of PBLWorks, says this:

The proud moment when students present their work to the “real world” is often a memory they will keep for the rest of their lives. We like to say PBL is transformative for students; you can bet that was true for the young people in the projects highlighted above.

Larmer, J. (2015) Gold Standard PBL: Public Product.