Cover vs Uncover
The operative word in conventional teaching paradigm is "cover":
Education authorities are worried about what should a student "cover" during the school.
National curriculum designers ensure that the national objectives are "covered" across the syllabi of different subjects at all levels.
Course implementers and designers develop the lesson plans keeping in view how much of the subject can be covered during one period.
The teacher is now forced to cover the lesson during one period.
Teacher fills out the coverage form.
The administrator measures the coverage and holds the teacher to task if the teacher is unable to cover the material.
Periodic tests are designed to measure the coverage of material by the students.
Regulatory authorities and inspection regimes are interested in seeing documents detailing how much coverage was actually achieved.
There is a mad rush for coverage. Every one is looking at coverage and assuming that coverage also means understanding. However, understanding is an elusive goal.
It is not necessary that the teaching material covered by a teacher in the class was actually understood by the students.
When a teacher enters a class session he is supposed to have uploaded the lecture material in his mind according to the lesson plan. During the class period the teacher wants to download the lesson plan material on to the students. The analogy to this is like filling the overhead tank with water typically enough for the day, no more or no less, and then trying to empty the overhead tank during the day irrespective of whether the household is able to use it or not. On a given day, there may be no washing requirements for clothes, or may be there were no dishes to wash as people have eaten elsewhere, or it may have been cold and the geezer was not working. Whatever the reason, if we try to completely empty the tank, there is a great likelihood on many days that water would spill over and go down the drain without use. On other days, due to increased requirements for some reason, the tank would empty itself much quickly and needs to be refilled before the next day.
If understanding and learning are more important then the amount of teaching should not be measured by the amount of coverage (capacity of the overhead tank for a day) during each session, but the amount of use. On some days the requirements would be less on others it would be more. Teacher should taken into account the context, environment and other competing interests to determine how much material needs to be utilized (understood).
The operative word in Project Based Learning (PBL) is not "cover", but "uncover".
Given a life-like project and going from complex to simple is like uncovering the layers of mysteries in which the core is enveloped. The objective of the PBL classroom is to enable the student to uncover these layers and move from a superficial understanding of the phenomenon to more and more indepth understanding. This is like unraveling the differnt layers of skin of an onion. You can go to deeper and deeper layers.
A student would make this movement to the level of detail to which he is capable. Unlike the "cover" approach where everyone is forced to subscribe to the greatest common divisor, the "uncover" approach enables different students to uncover the details and fathom the depths according to their own capacity. Not only is this fun, but discovery and adventure being what they are, they stimulate a drive in every one to exceed the others in this unravelling of the mysteries.
How much a student has covered is revealed by a testing mechanism in which the question paper is a closely guarded secret, the test is conducted for a specified time in an examination room where even your seating is kept secret, the answer sheets are sent secretly to an examiner from whom the identity of the student is deliberately hidden. Answer copy can only be seen and marked by the prescribed and assigned examiner. No one else is allowed to access the answer sheet. Grade assigned is also kept secret. And is only revealed when the entire process is complete.
Unlike the "cover" approach assessment, the "uncover" approach of PBL requires that the student is tested in an open exhibition. The question paper (criteria for the evaluation of exhibits) is known well in advance, even before you start working on your project. You exhibit your project. Anyone and everyone is allowed to see, comment, and recommend whatever they feel like at your work. The assessment is frank and open. Experts, old people, young people, managers, executives and any other person can throw any question in front of the system. The students exhibiting their projects then need to defend their work. Anyone can ask any thing about your project.
The exhibition allows a student to measure his work against the other exhibits put up by the other students. The student gets to understand how other perform in relation to his work. He can also see all kinds of comments and evaluations by the visitors of the exhibition and gets a cross section view of the evaluations done by general public as well as the experts.