Platforms for digital project-based learning

Last Spring, Sorat Tungkasiri and I presented some of our work at the Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference at Bryn Mawr College.  We’ve recently found out that we will be given time to speak again at the upcoming 2018 conference.  This is great because to my mind this is one of the most useful conferences related to educational technology and digital pedagogy.  It is also unfortunately a rather unique conference – a type of conference that I wish there were more of.  While most of the sessions in the conference are in some way related to technology, this is less a technology conference than it is a teaching and learning conference. The conference highlights creative ways that people from liberal arts colleges are using technology. In the context of the liberal arts, this conference also acknowledges the importance of the learning experience, both within the classroom and within the context of the college campus. This view of educational technology as offering the potential to enrich and enhance the interpersonal interactions in the learning experience and to facilitate learning experience is certainly very much aligned with what we try to do in the McGraw Center. I do however stumble a bit over the term ‘blended learning’. The term seems to emphasize the otherness of technology, as something foreign to a traditional learning experience. There’s no real sense in over-analyzing this. Terms such as this tend to come and go, but it does occur to me that perhaps a more apt or useful description of much of the work we most often do and the support we provide would be project-based learning.

The idea of project-based learning as an instructional strategy in which students are involved in the production of some real-world artifact or in being actively engaged in an authentic problem and thereby creating context in which learning can be applied has been around a very long time. The proliferation of digital tools and platforms have opened up many possibilities for project-based instruction.  The development of a website, digital archive, or documentary film could be the project itself that students are engaged in or could be used to report about project work done in the field.

While instructors can find a huge array of online tools and environments for such work, the McGraw Center administers  and recommends several digital platforms for coursework that are simple to use, simplify the process of registering students, and we feel have broad generic usefulness. Below is a list of some of these platforms.

Platforms for publishing

The following tools are some that stand out as being particularly easy to use and immediately available for project-based coursework.  Assistance with these platform, including in-class instruction is available from the McGraw Center, all available free-of-charge to Princeton faculty for their teaching.

McGrawCommons’ WordPress is an extraordinarily flexible online platform for creating websites for coursework at Princeton. While traditionally a blogging platform, websites in WordPress need not adhere to a journaled writing style.

Omeka is a web publishing platform developed at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University focusing on the creation, curation, and exhibit of digital assets. The platform encourages the development of virtual exhibits, containing an extensive list of descriptive metadata fields for describing digital assets. An example of Omeka in action here at Princeton can be found at

Neatline is a suite of geotemporal add-on tools for Omeka. Using Neatline, students can create beautiful and rich maps annotated with images, and build chronological narrative sequences based on items in the Omeka media collection. Example of Neatline projects can be found at:

Scalar is an open-source authoring and publishing platform designed for scholarly use. Developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at the University of Southern California, Scalar is a digital publishing platform specifically oriented toward the writing of media-rich, long-form, born-digital scholarship. In addition to text and image driven website, Scalar support the inclusion of image and video annotations, maps, timelines, and other data visualizations. The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture


Tools for smaller scale projects

TimeMapper from Open Knowledge Foundation Labs is an online tool for visualizing data from Google Speadsheets. The tool pulls together several open source projects to display information in textual, geospatial and chronological ways. And since the underlying datastore is a Google Sheet, this tool is especially well suited to collaborative classroom work.

TimelineJS from KnightLab at Northwestern University is another online tool for making visually-rich, interactive timelines. Like Timemapper, TimelineJS uses Google Sheets as a source of data

Google MyMaps is a tool for creating personal, custom maps, enhanced with the rich data found in Google Maps. Maps created in Google MyMaps can be shared and collaboratively edited and can be embedded in other sites.

Twine is cross-platform software assisting in the creation of interactive fiction and branching narratives.  The software is free and open-source, and requires no programming knowledge .Finished projects can be exported to webpages to be shared with the world.


Wellesley College Blended learning Initiative – a three year grant from the Mellon Foundation that started in 2014

Blended Learning Conference : Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts

Image: CC Rebecca Siegel




Posted by March 29, 2018