The Hard Question of Equity, Access, and PBL


The 2015 Digital Media+Learning (DML) conference is currently underway.  The theme this year is “Equity by Design.” I had a chance to catch the engaging opening session via online stream. The panel included CNN Political contributor Van Jones, MSNBC contributor Maria Teresa Kumar, and University of Texas at Austin Professor S. Craig Watkins.  This was a conversation that really dove into the theme topic, especially regarding technology careers for people of color.  I was quite impressed that the conference actually started with such a critical conversation.

The question of equity and access, and whether we are doing our best for youth of all backgrounds to succeed, is one that must be continuously asked and carefully discussed. We must consider this question even when discussing learning methods that seem “just right” and that seem to intricately engage youth.

Project-based learning has gained incredible steam as a way to get students to engage in, and own, their learning. The movement is exciting, without a doubt.  Yet precisely because the learning method is gaining such steam, we as educators need to remember to consider that question of equity and access.  Is it possible that project-based learning can actually further disadvantage some of our youth? Will students who struggle with school because of problems related to the hardships they face everyday still struggle despite the potential of PBL? Will they struggle even more if PBL is used?  These are hard but necessary questions. If these problems do exist, asking the right questions will help reveal them so that we can work on correcting them.

As additional schools integrate PBL, it is imperative that we critically examine the role equity and access challenges may play in the implementation of this learning method.  We need more time, research, and plenty of discussion to figure this out. It is hard work, but certainly necessary for the benefit of the youth today.


[‘Equity’ Photo credit: Got Credit]