Search form

Digital Media and Project-Based Learning: Free Web-Based Tools

EducationWorld is pleased to present this resource from Dr. Pat LeMay Burr, Distinguished Chair at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, where she teaches Digital Media and directs a campus iPad Program.

This article originally appeared in TechEdge, a quarterly magazine published by Naylor LLC for Texas Computer Education Association members. To join or for more information, visit

Project-based learning means putting the process of knowledge creation in the hands of your students. It is an excellent way to involve kids in material and to achieve that higher-order thinking we all strive to realize in our classrooms. But given the limitless directions and outcomes possible, planning and organizing a project beforehand is crucial. The good news is that many online resources exist that can make the design and execution of a project much more manageable.

A significant role of digital media is to support student success in (1) communicating, (2) collaborating, and (3) goal-reaching via continuous improvement. Digital media for classroom support in PBL is plentiful and predominantly free. The resources below may be of use to you for planning and executing your next project-based learning activity.


PBL groups can benefit from the free screencasting features of the online learning community site ShowMe. It is a simple interactive whiteboard that allows JPEGs to be imported and voice narration and annotation to be added. The image, voice and annotation are all rendered into a consolidated, compressed video, which is saved in the cloud on the ShowMe servers.

Online PBL Resources




Google Docs



Quick Screen Share


Stored files, including those created with the mobile app or a laptop, may remain private, and a link is generated for each unique video. The link can be emailed to student group members, and each member can view the video and provide feedback.


Students can screen-share for collaboration and document preparation via Google Docs shared folders. Files can be created in Google Docs, saved, edited repeatedly, and then exported. And if simultaneous online collaboration is not possible for a PBL activity, students also have free cloud storage options at DropBox and Box.

These generic “file safe-keeping” options allow students to work on files as time is available, and the most recent file version is always posted for all group members who have access to the shared Dropbox folder.

Beyond using DropBox as cloud storage for files in progress, students can also use the integrated app GimmeBar to collect Web clippings for later use. Clippings may be saved directly to DropBox and shared as collected research and data sources for a student group.

Still a favorite, PrimaryPad has many characteristics of the early version of Etherpad (an open source collaboration option that is no longer supported). It offers student project groups the option to sign in to the same account, collaborate in color-coded type, save versions, and export files.

Goal Reaching via Continuous Improvement

Screen-sharing for presentation review comes into PBL at a later stage when students in a group are ready to improve the near-ready project by demonstrating it to each other as a draft. Online screen sharing--not only for production, but also for review--can easily be executed with free Quick Screen Share, described by some as the simplest way to share screens with anybody, anywhere. No registration or installations are required.

Files created for a PBL presentation can be uploaded to the free webinar (Web conference) site LiveMinutes. Up to 40 guests may co-view at any one time, and video and audio chat are supported. Participants see the same screen at the same time, and the site integrates annotation capacity. LiveMinutes also integrates with DropBox.

“Guest interaction” is an option that allows full participant interaction and document editing when turned on; when it is turned off, only the host who initiated the meeting can make changes to documents on the screen.

Since the greatest barrier to PBL is often the investment of time required of faculty, the use of these and other resources is recommended. By utilizing online tools, teachers can streamline the project-creation process and facilitate collaboration in and outside of the classroom.

Related resources

Eight Essential Elements of Project-Based Learning
Project-Based Learning
Site Review: Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century
Project-Based and Problem-Based Learning


Education World®    
Copyright © 2012 Education World