PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING: MANAGING COMPLEX PROJECTS SIMPLY
Group projects provide the ideal platform for students to work collaboratively and hone the problem-solving and team-working skills they need for their future professional lives, where sustained inquiry “in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information” (Vargas Castro, 2016) is critical. However, from a teaching perspective, the management and monitoring of such a course can be very challenging.
Additionally, students often find it difficult to approach long and complex projects while coordinating group work efficiently. Thus, designing a project-based course requires high-resolution planning, so that the course is presented in a carefully scaffolded manner providing detailed step-by-step instructions, assessment rubrics to serve as guidance throughout, and daily “deliverable” tasks to ensure all the groups are working in a productive manner. This results in a student-centered environment in which learning occurs in small groups that collaborate and take joint responsibility for the discovery and the delivery (Smith, Sheppard, & Johnson, 2005) of their products. Problem-based methodology based on group projects makes the learning real and relevant by engaging 21st-century skills in which collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, problem solving are key (Binkley et al., 2012). These skills are deemed crucial for success in academia, work and life.
In order to coordinate such a complex project and manage it effectively, we use a simple, free tool: a single Google doc for the whole class to work through the different parts of extended projects, thus providing a record of their work, enabling students to see how other groups are progressing, and learning from their peers. From our experience, this tool facilitates the management of projects by allowing teachers a “bird’s eye view” of the whole process and a way to give immediate feedback on students’ work. This paper will showcase how this process is implemented within a project-based university Advanced English course for Economics.
 Binkley, M., Erstad, O., Herman, J., Raizen, S., Ripley, M., Miller-Ricci, M., & Rumble, M. (2012). Defining Twenty-First Century Skills. In P. Griffin, B. McGaw, & E. Care (Eds.), Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills SE - 2 (pp. 17–66). Springer Netherlands. http://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2324-5_2
 Smith, K. A., Sheppard, S. D., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2005). Pedagogies of engagement: Classroom‐based practices. Journal of engineering education, 94(1), 87-101.
 Vargas Castro, C. (2016). A First and Basic Approach to the PBL in the English Class. Grupo de Trabajo. ISBN 9781326815172