For decades, formal education has relied on textbooks and test scores to guide students and evaluate their understanding of concepts. The mind of a student is overflowing with creative greatness; they should never be limited by outdated teaching methods. Challenge Based Learning (CBL) provides a solution to this repetitive and flawed cycle. CBL offers a way for students to interact with education by making learning relevant to the student.
CBL is being used more often in learning environments across the country. Full Sail Labs provides a safe space for students to explore and acquire new skills through CBL. This state-of-the-art facility offers educational programs in Game Design & Coding, Filmmaking & Storytelling, and Music Production, for students ages 7-17. Designed by Full Sail University with the goal of creating an engaging and open learning environment, young minds have the opportunity to transform from passive consumers of content into active creators of content.
Director of Learning for Full Sail Labs, Dr. Holly Ludgate sat on the advisory board for CBL and was part of implementing the framework and process for what would become an entirely new approach to education. Having seen the power of CBL first hand, Dr. Ludgate took her knowledge and applied it to the Full Sail Labs’ teen based curriculum.
In 2015, Full Sail Labs teamed up with One School of the Arts, (OSOTA) a private school in Longwood, FL whose focus is to provide their students with engaging programs in visual, performing, communicative, and culinary arts. In August of 2015, each week a different high school grade from OSOTA attended school at Labs rather than their regular schedule. For the first time, students explored the CBL process by tackling challenges administered by Full Sail Labs’ facilitators. Students needed to collaborate and create projects to solve their assigned challenge.
The amount of confidence CBL can ignite within a student is remarkable. OSTOA student Maria Vallibon, along with her peers, reflected on their time at the Labs in 2015;
“The first thing I think about when I hear Full Sail is technology. In my Full Sail Labs experience, I was given the chance to make an impact on people. My group and I were able to come up with an idea to help those around us. Many may underestimate our ability to help in a major way because we are young, but Full Sail Labs gave us the opportunity to come up with an idea to serve the community. This process has not only impacted those who we are helping, but it has also impacted me.”
This past August, OSOTA returned to Full Sail Labs. The repeat students were familiar with the CBL process and able to hit the ground running much faster and got further with their creative thinking than in the previous year. Each week, the students were asked to dig into a challenge or problem in their community and determine a solution they can implement and create change with. Typically, CBL is driven by student interest to choose groups but because this was a one week CBL challenge, the students were given topics to choose from and immediately get started on.
Some groups chose to tackle bullying, while others aspired to hold a food drive. In CBL, students are required to actually implement what they want to do. They get everything ready to carry out the solution back in their community and make magic happen after they leave Full Sail Labs. Although CBL is done in groups, everyone divides and conquers their own separate challenges, collaborating to accomplish a common goal. “Team Contracts” were created to ensure the students stayed on track. Each team member would have to list their own responsibilities for the project, the expected deliverables, and due dates for said deliverables. The students sign their contracts creating accountability to themselves and those in their group.
Even though technology typically plays a significant role in CBL, it is not meant to teach tech skills. Technology should be transparent for the students to decide what tools they wish to use ranging from an iPad to paper and pen. Aside from access to all Full Sail Labs’ equipment, students were asked to bring their own tech tools so when not at Labs, they still had the ability to work on their own.
The most powerful aspect of CBL is the clear transformation seen in the students in just a week. They often start out aloof and unsure, but within a few days there is a visible openness, students become focused and passionate about their goals. As Full Sail Labs facilitator Adam Kuta, witnessed first hand:
“The students seemed to agree the hardest part of the experience was staying focused, but that they were able to overcame it by thinking of the positive outcomes their work could have on their communities. Many seemed incredibly passionate about continuing their initiatives.”
In CBL, students are often treated like adults which at first can be a big wakeup call. Students have to be responsible and accountable for their actions. They have to think through timelines, create a plan, brand, pitch ideas, and create the work. The experience makes students flex new parts of their brain, but once projects are completed students gain confidence and feel gratified for completing their set goals. CBL prepares students to use these techniques and 21st Century Skills in the real world, many of which are soft skills such as communication, collaboration, self-motivation, problem solving, and more. Dr. Ludgate has a unique opportunity to observe the change within students;
“When working with students throughout their CBL experience, the process they go through is remarkable. The CBL student-centered approach to learning empowers them to own their successes and fully vest in their solution. I am astounded by the amount of insight and reflection the students have, which is typically lacking in the education system today. This experience instills a maker-attitude in students, which is what we need for the success of future generations.”
CBL takes a multidisciplinary approach using community challenges to have students do, rather than be passive consumers. This falls directly in line with the goal of Full Sail Labs, give young minds the opportunity to transform from passive consumers of content into active creators of content. The use of Challenge Based Learning in Full Sail Labs inspires young students to take their ideas and ignite them into something powerful and life-changing, even if just to them.