Can Farnborough’s Extended Project inform Extreme Learning?

This week’s edition of the BBC Learning Curve included a short piece about the piloting of “Extended Projects” at Farnborough 6th Form College. Our Extreme Learning projects aren’t aimed at that age group: but it was good to hear from some people who have direct experience of this new approach to learning.

The program is currently available on Listen Again here (this piece is between about 19m 40s and 29m 30s) and due to be repeated at 23.00 today on Radio 4. The interview is also on the college’s site as a stand-alone mp3 file (9MB). Click on the Audio mp3 icon to listen. Link

Key features:

  • The pilot involved S6 students, working on 5000-word projects during summer months.
  • 120 or so started, and about 70 completed their projects.
  • The projects were bound into proper books, like dissertations.
  • Response was astonishing, with unselected students asking to take part.
  • The dissertations were presented by Sir Mike Tomlinson, who recommended extended projects for schools.

The projects combined 2 A-level subjects. This was compulsory, and was seen as important in teaching students about the difficulties associated with subject boundaries. The research projects were described as “excavating the area in between” subjects.

The projects weren’t graded. Although the links below discuss grading arrangements, it sounds like the decision was eventually made not to grade the projects, but instead to provide a subjective response, including good feedback. They wanted students more than anything to be proud of their work. The variety of projects described probably made the development of grading criteria more trouble than it was worth. Perhaps this was because the students involved were using the projects to supplement their A-levels? In that context, perhaps formative assessment, to guide future learning, is more appropriate?

Students saw coursework as unchallenging by comparison. These projects clearly weren’t a soft option. The HT interviewed claimed the rigorous projects developed resilience and stamina, but admitted that a number of students had found the projects depressing at times, but had come through that.

Don’t “over-specify” the projects. This advice came through strongly, particularly regarding time allocation.

Those on content-heavy courses were most prone to drop-out. Examples given were chemistry and biology, where the coursework content was huge.
What ideas could we learn from this?

We haven’t spent much time thinking about how we might recognise the achievement of an Extreme Learning project.

  • Perhaps some sort of professional publication could be created, in a similar way to the Farnborough dissertations, and presented to the student? A professionally presented CD or DVD with a copy of the project web site on it could be done at moderate cost, and be a useful part of the student’s portfolio.
  • A formal presentation ceremony is perhaps also something we could consider; it could help build confidence.

The Farnborough College site includes these other links