Friday, November 15, 2019

Thoughts on "Five Principles for Workable Client-Based Projects: Lessons from the Trenches" by Lopez and Lee

In "Five Principles for Workable Client-Based Projects:  Lessons from the Trenches" (2005), Lopez and Lee discuss considerations for making experiential-learning opportunities successful.  The benefits for client-based projects (CBP's):
  • Providing active-experiential learning
  • Promoting skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, teamwork
  • Adding "realism" to coursework
  • Increasing student motivation and engagement due to developing products for an authentic purpose
Often, teachers shy away from these types of opportunities because of time, uncertainty of assessments, and unfamiliarity with the process of finding clients.  

Teachers should be selective with the client search and develop projects of varying scope...semester-long, month-long, year-long, etc.  This might present a problem for teachers who are still dealing with a traditional school schedule and grading system.  The recruitment of clients should be thought out carefully in advance with objectives clearly in mind.  In addition, teachers should carry high expectations for clients and outline the process well in advance to avoid any misconceptions.  Periodic and productive means of feedback need to be built in to the process as well.

Teachers in this environment should work to develop their networking skills and should always be looking out for potential clients.  At the early stages, it would be great to have a centralized "client center" so that teachers feel confident in connecting with a quality and vetted client population.

For students, using a project management system online, such as Basecamp, Trello, or another, would allow consistent checkpoints and accountability.  

It is important to look for a client who has an identifiable problem that can be addressed, has appropriate time availability to guide students effectively and is available to students and the teacher, has great interest, enthusiasm, and a positive outlook but who understands the risk of failure and has realistic expectations.  It is also good to seek out the client's reason for working on this project and his/her open-mindedness about the outcome.

Lopez and Lee designated types of clients:
  • The Talker-talks but gets off subject-teacher would have to spend a lot of time re-directing students so that they stay on target
  • The overaccommodator-too open and not structured enough with requests-again, teacher would spend a lot of time making sure that objectives remain clear to the students
  • The undecided argumentative client-internally, the client's organization is not sure of direction which could confuse students and ultimately cause frustration, confusion, and lack of interest
  • The add-on client-keeps adding new ideas to the project-again, this could add to student frustration and confusion, leading to less than desirable buy-in and results
The teacher's role would be to mediate between all types of clients and the students, ensuring that projects stay on course for all.  This would require training for teachers who are not used to fulfilling this role in a traditional school setting.

One of the largest issues for teachers coming from a traditional setting will be scope of the projects and dealing with students who have short-term vs. long-term projects.  There could be an issue with structuring traditional class time when students are dealing with projects of varying length, demand, and deliverables.

Students and teachers will need clearly written/created instructional aids providing the guidelines for beginning and managing a successful project.  Aside from the normal design process, students not used to such a structure will need clear instructions and flow charts to allow them to navigate through this type of learning.  Accountability will need to be present for students of varying interests, abilities, and learning styles.  Pre-work with self-assessments such as Indigo or YouScience, and discussions around group dynamics and teamwork would be critical before any set up with a client on a project.

The quantitative assessment involved might be at issue with teachers as well.  With subjective "grading" that goes with the feedback process, it would be imperative to develop guidelines and rubrics ahead of time that meet student and teacher needs within this changing paradigm.

Something else that must be available to students would be a toolkit of resources that can be used, many to help with the soft skills necessary for students to communicate and work with clients on a professional and authentic basis, ie. guidelines for writing professional emails and reports, recording of data, asking good questions, conducting effective meetings, etc.

Non-disclosures should be discussed with students, and expectations should be set for regular feedback for teachers and students.

In summary, time and care should be put into making teachers feel comfortable with experiential learning opportunities and finding ways to merge this and complement teaching styles already in place.  By including teachers in the planning process from step one, their ownership in the process will be instrumental in the success of the project work.