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Public Product & PBL: An Overview

Updated: Feb 6

The following is an excerpt from the e-book HQPBL Connected: An Educator's Guide to Creating Meaningful Project-Based Student Experiences by Gina Olabuenaga, Alicia Peletz, and Kristy Lathrop (Applied Coaching for Projects 2022), chapter 4, on HQPBL's Framework "Public Product"


Introduction

Public Product, under HQPBL, is defined as students working on projects that are meaningful and relevant to their culture, their lives, and their future. The framework articulates three guiding questions.


To what extent do students:

  • Share their work-in-progress with peers, teachers, and others for feedback?

  • Exhibit their work and describe their learning to peers and people beyond the classroom?

  • Receive feedback and/or engage in dialogue with their audiences?

An Overview

Public Product seems evident on the surface: a project culminates in a high-quality product or performance. However, the process used to get there makes a product in HQPBL different from one produced in a more traditional classroom context. As you review the descriptors for the criteria, note the attention to the process. How are students creating the product? With whom and how are they talking about their learning and work?


We have added two hallmarks of product development inferred in the guiding questions provided in the HQPBL framework.


To what extent do students:

  • Improve the quality of their work?

  • Develop products that demonstrate what they know and can do in regards to the learning goals?


If you have familiarity with project-based learning, you may have come across some examples of Public Products. And, we are willing to bet that many of these products seem grand or complex. Maybe those products made you feel like project-based learning was out of reach for you. The truth is products reach those levels of quality through incremental revisions and iteration. Through the HQPBL framework, we are here to reiterate and proclaim that the learning process, shared with others over time, matters most in developing a public product.

We are here to reiterate and proclaim that the learning process, shared with others over time, matters most in developing a public product.

Connected to the product development process is the intellectual challenge set forth at the beginning of the project. Consider early what products or performances are best suited to address or communicate the intellectual challenge or problem to others. The challenge may live in creating the product or what is more appropriate for a given audience. For example, presenting to a state senator may require a different approach or product than talking to a local community organization on a given issue based on the unique desired outcome. What are those various options? If possible, engage students in this meaning- and decision-making process. Once you have selected the products, develop clear success criteria for the product itself and identify how students will share their learning with peers, their audience, or other stakeholders.


Before we get into the guiding questions, we wish to emphasize considering the audience. Who is affected by the issue? Who could influence or support the development of the products? Who needs to hear students' messages or would benefit from their solutions? It takes time to identify the audience, secure them, and provide necessary guidance for working with your learners. With that, time to explore the guiding questions.


Share their work-in-progress

When you ask young children to show you something they have made, often they do so with exuberance and pride. No matter the stage of development or doneness. As we grow older, we lose this comfortability with showing work, especially work-in-progress. However, through ongoing and frequent feedback, our best work gets made. No matter the input or whether or not we act upon it, the information offers us a chance to see our work through different eyes, learn a new way of doing our work, and understand our peers or collaborators. For this reason, deprivatizing student work along the way is necessary to move from doing a standard project towards a high-quality one.


What does this look like in a project? As alluded to above, integrate feedback early in the project process. Then, offer frequent opportunities to check in with self, peers, or teachers to ensure the work is on track. An important thing to note: students won't inherently know how to give and receive quality feedback from a technical standpoint. Teach this explicitly. Practice coming up with feedback. Use quality tools, such as a rubric or skills continuum, to ground and align feedback across learners. Practice providing concrete evidence to justify feedback. And when possible, keep it simple and focused so young people have a meaningful chance to understand and integrate the feedback into subsequent revisions.

What is also true about feedback is that a culture of trust and safety must be in place.

What is also true about feedback is that a culture of trust and safety must be in place. Because feedback happens among several stakeholders (self, peers, teacher, and experts), there is much to consider. We offer a few questions here to get you started.

  • What social and emotional skills would support this work?

  • How do you need to attend to students' identities to create a healthy feedback-rich environment?

  • What is required for students to self-evaluate?

  • What relationship or communication skills are required to interact with peers?

  • How can we help students learn how to interpret and take action on the feedback they receive?


Exhibit their work

To what extent do students exhibit their work and describe their learning to peers and people beyond the classroom? This guiding question is deceptively simple, yet it holds a lot of richness—time to unpack it.


Exhibiting work raises the stakes, incentivizing learners to produce a worthy product or performance of their audiences' time and needs. When framed and facilitated well, exhibitions (also called showcases) can be celebrations of learning. They are a time for young people to show what they have learned and share their offerings with their intended audience.


Exhibitions create accountability on two fronts. One, quality exhibitions require young people to speak about their learning. Therefore, students must talk about much more than the content. They also have to reflect on their process and shifts in understanding and articulate that to others. It is indeed a much taller order than submitting a product to a teacher for a grade. It is a chance to collaborate with peers to hone their reflection and communication skills. Two, quality exhibitions also include audience engagement. Their presence and participation during an exhibition profoundly impact students' experience. So much so it has a guiding question all its own. Let's get into the next section!



Dialogue with their audience

Why is a dialogue with the audience a critical component of high-quality project-based learning? Before discussing the "why," let's define when students may engage their audience. First, audiences may be part of the development process via feedback opportunities, and the other significant opportunity comes at the end of the project when students present their work.


A well-designed project addresses an authentic problem or challenge. When possible, invite an audience that is directly impacted or has unique knowledge or expertise on the issue. By including their needs, insights, and experiences, students deepen their learning, create better quality products, and build connections between the classroom and the world just beyond it throughout the project cycle.

In HQPBL, the audience is an active participant in the final presentations or demonstrations of learning.

In HQPBL, the audience is an active participant in the final presentations or demonstrations of learning. They ask young people questions about their process and knowledge (through their expertise and, as necessary, teacher scaffolding). Why include this dialogue and not just present their work? The questions and conversation require students to deprivatize their thinking and think on the spot. To be successful, students must prepare more deeply, considering what the audience may want to know. Therefore, students can showcase their learning in more nuanced and explicit ways.


As we come to the end of this section, we ask that you continue to hold that a public product isn't just about the thing itself—it is also about the process to arrive at that product. When you review the In Action examples, note both the process and the features of the product itself.


A bit about our additions—Improve work quality and demonstrate learning

When we look at the guiding questions for Public Product, the idea of "process" is abundantly clear. What sits beneath the surface is what the student's work actually looks like. As such, we chose to include two new indicators.


The first addition—[students] improve the quality of their work—holds everyone accountable for acting on feedback and committing the highest quality work. It is not enough to participate in a feedback opportunity or make the work public. Students must consider the input, make decisions about moving forward, and implement. We want to emphasize that the lesson is not to act on each piece of feedback one receives. The goal is to teach students to be deliberative and thoughtful. What can they learn from this feedback? What changes would they need to make in response? Is the feedback or revision aligned with the rubric, project goals, and the student or team vision for the work? As with so many things in project-based learning, be sure to make this process of considering and implementing feedback explicit.


The second addition—[students] demonstrate what they know and can do

Seeks to ensure students are working towards the learning goals and that we, as teachers, can see evidence of learning within the product. If you cannot see evidence of the learning goals, there are a few things to examine to correct this in the future. We will begin with task understanding. Do students understand the task? Are they clear on the intellectual challenge and how they should be working to address it? If this is the case, identify what scaffolds, inputs, or clarifications are needed to move students and teams in the right direction.


Let's say students do understand the task. In fact, they are producing the exact thing you asked for, but it isn't on track. Time to look at the product design. Is the product an appropriate format to demonstrate your project's unique learning goals? Is the public product well matched with the intellectual challenge? Here is a project in which the three components are well aligned: learning goals, product, and intellectual challenge. For the sake of simplicity, we will keep the details high-level.


Intellectual Challenge - What might be the environmental impact of a road that the town planners are proposing?

Learning Goals - Ecology, expository writing, critical thinking

Product - Scientific paper sent to city and state officials


In this project, students conduct a field study and present their data to the city and local officials about the potential impact of the construction of a road through an existing open space. The product and the response to the challenge require the content and skills outlined in the learning goals. The product is appropriate for that audience and will allow students to respond to the challenge directly when presenting their findings. All this to say, use the extent to which you can see what students know and can do to check for task clarity and project component alignment.


As we come to the end of this section, we ask that you continue to hold that a public product isn't just about the thing itself—it is also about the process to arrive at that product. When you review the In Action examples, note both the process and the features of the product itself.


Our Top 3 Tips

Now that we have provided you with an overview, we want to offer you some helpful advice we have learned along the way.


Tip #1 - Draft a model (for yourself)

How many times have you had an idea and the reality didn't match the vision in your mind? Create a model of the final product to check out your vision. This doesn't have to be as detailed as the product(s) your students might develop. The goal is to make visible your expectations and the journey that may be required to get them there. Keep notes using some of these questions as you work: What was most challenging? What felt confusing? Where did you spend the most time? These questions will help you plan supports and framing for your students during the project. After your model is complete, compare it to the learning outcomes and skills that you are trying to develop in your students. Will the product and process lead to these? Can you use this as evidence for assessment? Some will be evident in the end product itself, and some will be evident along the way through the process. If neither is the case, m