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Project-Based Inquiry Global (PBI Global)

PBI Global Process

Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global is a collaborative, inquiry-based instructional process that connects students around the world through interdisciplinary inquiry projects that require students to ask compelling questions, gather & analyze sources, creatively synthesize claims & evidences, critically evaluate & revise, and share, publish & act.

Inquiry is one approach to teaching and learning in a world that is exploding with information. In fact, teachers can use inquiry to support students as they delve deep into disciplinary content to provide a rich, nuanced learning experience. In our model, we want students to do more than explore topics during inquiry, we want them to use the tools of a discipline to understand claims and evidences and to create new knowledge. Our aim is that students will engage in authentic, intellectual work so that their products will have value within schools as well as outside of school in their everyday lives.

Project-based inquiry has its roots in problem-based learning (Boss & Krauss, 2007; Buck Institute for Education, 2009), building on a strong orientation to real-world problems. The inquiry approach allows a rich set of technology tools and resources to be put into play as students explore and create new knowledge by answering a compelling question.

The content generated from project-based inquiry activities can be enhanced with Internet resources that enable a wide range of multimedia texts. Internet access also widens the communicative scope of project-based inquiry, allowing learners to share the results of their work with extended and distant audiences while gathering feedback and potential inspiration from others’ work. The aim of the project-based inquiry approach is to provide the opportunity for students to engage in what Newmann, Bryk, and Nagaoka (2001) described as authentic, intellectual work. They described the distinctive characteristics of authentic intellectual work as “construction of knowledge through disciplined inquiry in order to produce products that have value beyond school” (p. 14).

Likewise, elements of project-based inquiry possess what Dewey (1927) referred to as productive inquiry, which is deliberately seeking what we need in order to do what we want to do. Intellectual development is primarily about learning to use a specific culture’s semiotic resources within purposeful activities with others in ways that both conform to cultural expectations and express one’s unique perspective. Obviously, reading and writing are central to a student’s intellectual development; these processes are augmented through project-based inquiry as students use a variety of online tools as well as digital video to create products of learning. Through a project-based inquiry process, our aim is to engage students in intellectual work that has depth, duration, and complexity, and to challenge and motivate students toward knowledge creation.

We have applied project based inquiry in a variety of instructional settings, including the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institutes (Spires, Lee, Young, Leu, Coiro, & Castek, 2009); middle grade classrooms (Spires, Hervey, Morris & Stelpflug, 2012; and our New Literacies & Global Learning graduate degree program at NC State University (Manfra &  Spires, 2013). We are using this same project-based inquiry process to scaffold teachers’ knowledge and use of video and other digital media for instructional purposes, both in the U.S. (Spires, Hervey, & Watson, 2013) and in China (Spires, Morris, & Zhang, 2012).

High quality inquiry demands questions that compel us to seek an answer. In part, compelling questions emerge from our interests. A compelling question should also be an invitation to learn more. The more open ended and provocative, the better the question for inquiry. Likewise, questions should be authentic, which often can be the most compelling aspect of inquiry. The answer to a compelling question needs to be constructed. In other words, students should not be able to answer questions by searching the Web. Rather through an iterative design process students construct a response based on multiple resources and reflections in a creative way that produces an original product. The question may be teacher-generated, student-generated or a collaboration among teacher and students. We typically have students work in pairs or small groups to explore their question. As teacher facilitators, we guided students to a variety of types of questions, ranging from direct informational questions to open-ended questions, to ill-structured problems to solve. A few sample questions are:  What impact does global warming have on our planet and what can we do about it? What challenges has the Internet created for American youth? How did problems associated with the electoral college impact recent presidential elections?

After students decide on a compelling question, they gather and analyze sources. Students use a wealth of print and digital resources to gather pertinent information to address their question. It is important for the teacher to provide appropriate instruction in how to conduct productive web searches, taking into consideration key informational sites relative to a particular discipline. Students should pay particular attention to the credibility and reliability of information as they gather and analyze their sources. Additionally, we suggest that students conduct at least one close reading of a source that they locate. The source they target for a close reading should be one that is challenging and nuanced, and thus worthy of a close reading procedure.

In order to arrive at a creative synthesis, students creatively synthesize claims that they generate within the disciplinary inquiry process. For example, a literary critic might construct claims with textual evidence and close examination of language, while a scientist might construct models to support scientific hypotheses. It is essential that students do the important work of justifying claims with appropriate evidence. After the claims are constructed and justified, students engage in an iterative design and development process that results in representing their research in a new and original way.  The process requires students to demonstrate complex thinking with their content by integrating information across print and digital texts, drawing inferences, summarizing, and making novel connections en route to designing their final product. Based on the nature of their project and their content, students may choose a digital tool to support the representation of their content. For example, students may decide to create a video to represent their new knowledge. In this case, they must also gather necessary music, narration, and images that support their video concept. Using a storyboard, students would organize their resources in a way that promotes intellectual, aesthetic, and technical quality outcomes.

Next, students critically evaluate and revise evidences as they fine-tune their claims within a discipline. For example, a historian might detect inconsistencies in evidence and revise for strength of credibility of claims, while a mathematician might critically question logic and revise for precision.  In addition to ongoing teacher scaffolding and to ensure broad-based and high-level feedback for their final products, we suggest that students engage in a three-level evaluation process: self-evaluation, peer evaluation, and outside expert evaluation. The evaluations should be based on a well-developed rubric with elements included that target the intellectual and aesthetic qualities that are important to the teacher. The rubric may be teacher-generated, student-generated or a combination of the two. From our experience, we have learned that a rubric that is jointly developed by teacher and students often helps students stay motivated during the project since they have direct input into the learning goals.  Using multiple sources of feedback based on the evaluation rubric, students revise their products accordingly. By combining formative and summative assessment, the teacher is using a powerful pedagogical approach that allows students to enter an iterative design process with important feedback along the way.

As a culminating activity, students share and publish their inquiry products with class members as well as the larger educational community through the Web. Far too often, teachers are the only ones who see students’ inquiry products. Students can produce inquiry products for a variety of audiences both inside and outside the classroom, using social media to connect with audiences from other countries and cultures.  In creating their inquiry-learning product and sharing it on the Web, students are afforded the enriched opportunity of engaging in intellectual discourse around their new learning that extends beyond school.  Specific outlets for publishing student-generated content are blogs (e.g., wikis (e.g., Twitter, or video sharing sites (e.g., Students enjoy sharing their creative productions with family members and friends in addition to classmates in school. Sharing work with outside audiences has both cognitive and motivational benefits and supports students in their process of seeing themselves as writers, readers, and creators who make contributions beyond school (Jewitt, 2008; Lankshear, Peters, & Knobel, 2002). Additionally, a goal of inquiry is that students not only learn and create new knowledge about a compelling question, but they are emboldened to act with a sense of civic duty.

There are six design features involved in preparing for PBI Global through which teachers decide the nature of the project. Teachers have many demands on their time, which is why PBI Global is designed on a continuum of complexity. The following features can be used to design a PBI Global that fits the needs of any classroom.

There are six design features involved in preparing for PBI Global through which teachers decide the nature of the project. Teachers have many demands on their time, which is why PBI Global is designed on a continuum of complexity. The following features can be used to design a PBI Global that fits the needs of any classroom.


New Literacies Collaborative New Literacies Collaborative

Selected Resources

Journal Article – Connecting classrooms to the future: Developing cross-cultural understandings through project-based inquiry

Journal Article – Cross-cultural collaborative inquiry: A collective case study with students from China and the US

As our world becomes more connected, globalized education becomes increasingly important.

Journal Article – Cross-cultural inquiry in science

This compilation of articles describes three projects aimed at offering students authentic opportunities to develop global competencies.

FI Education Brief – Engaging in Global Inquiry: Teachers and Students as Agents of Change

Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global is a collaborative, global inquiry-to-action process through which schools can prepare students to be globally competent; STEM and STEAM knowledgeable; creative problem solvers and critical thinkers; and effective communicators and collaborators in today’s continuously changing global context. This brief contains practical suggestions for teachers wishing to engage in PBI Global with their students.

Journal Article – Going global with project-based inquiry: Cosmopolitan literacies in practice

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, complex global challenges necessitate cross‐cultural collaborative efforts.

Video – PBI Global 2019 – Person Early College Innovation & Leadership (PECIL)

Students and teachers at Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership (PECIL) celebrate their PBI Global on Global Water and Sanitation. Supported by Dr. Hiller Spires and the PBI Global Team at NC State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.

Video – PBI Global Spring 2017

Wake STEM Early College and Suzhou North America High School

Video – PBI Global Student Summit – Suzhou, China 2018

Journal Article – Project-based inquiry (PBI) global in the kindergarten classroom: Inquiring about the world

In the current article, two kindergarten teachers and two university researchers explain how 45 kindergarten students collaboratively engaged in a specific inquiry approach called Project-Based Inquiry (PBI) Global.

Video – The Design Features of PBI Global 

Project Team

Dr Hiller A. Spires Dr Hiller A. Spires

Dr Sarah Byrne Bausell Dr Sarah Byrne Bausell

Marie Pierson Himes Marie Pierson Himes