ISTE Standards for Coaching

Project-Based Learning: A Recipe for Student Autonomy, Voice and Choice, and Sustained Inquiry

As a university dietetics instructor and internship director, I am focused on developing curricula that enables my students to practice and prepare for professional work. As budding professionals, dietetics students need opportunities to build knowledge and develop professional skills in food and nutritional sciences through simulation exercises and experiential learning in authentic settings. Further, due to the explosion of digital technologies utilized in the dietetics field, it is vitally important that dietetics students are provided educational opportunities to practice communicating their knowledge and skills via digital platforms. 

Incorporating projects into dietetics education that utilize digital platforms not only help prepare students for the professional realm, but offer students “voice and choice” in the design process. This curricular approach gives students the freedom to be creative and innovative as they make decisions about content, format, and overall design. My experience as a college professor leads me to believe that this approach to learning will likely increase intrinsic motivation among students since they are not constrained to a rigid set of assignment requirements, topics they are not interested in exploring, or project designs that are not appealing to them. Rather, by following a broad set of project guidelines, students are encouraged to investigate and design based on what is interesting and important to them.    

Further, I believe a critical aspect of being an effective college instructor involves periodic reflection on curriculum and instruction. Some questions to ponder as one reflects on course design include the following: 

  • What makes learning exciting and rewarding to students? 
  • How does the structure of the curriculum affect student motivation? 
  • What types of assignments enable students to build knowledge and develop skills that they will retain beyond a particular college course/term? 
  • How can assignments be designed to foster student autonomy, creativity and imagination? 

As I consider best practices in the instruction of dietetics students, I reflect on the following question as it pertains to utilization of digital technology in project-based learning, and how student voice and choice increase intrinsic motivation and creativity in the design process of project-based learning. How does student autonomy in selection and utilization of digital tools affect the quality of outputs in the design process?

The International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Standard 4 for Students, “Innovative Designer,” states that: “Students will use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions” (ISTE). Within this category, ISTE Standard 4a states: “Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems” (ISTE).

What is project-based learning? 

According to the Buck Institute for Education, “Project-based learning is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real world and personally meaningful projects” (Buck Institute for Education). This type of learning enables students to work on a project that allows voice and choice while investigating a problem or question. Sustained inquiry is a key component of project-based learning whereby students dive into the depths of a subject area over an extended period of time to answer questions or problems that are meaningful to them. Projects culminate with a public product, such as a blog post or a website. This instructional model enhances the learning process by including student reflection, which is an essential component of Kolb’s theory of experiential learning (Lindsey & Berger. 2009).  


Examples of Project-based Learning in Higher Education 

In a research article titled, “Fostering students’ autonomy: Project-based learning as an instructional strategy,” the author describes the curriculum design and outcomes of incorporating project-based learning design into an English language immersion class. Thirty university students worked in pairs to research a business of their choice and design a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation on the organization’s characteristics, such as the marketing mix, their mission and vision statements, a SWOT analysis, etc. Students were required to incorporate multimedia into their presentations, but were given autonomy on what to include. The results showed that the use of project-based learning instruction had a positive impact on student autonomy, collaborative learning, content knowledge, presentation skills, language acquisition, and use of technology tools (Rostom, 2019).  

Further, in an article titled, “Everyone designs: Learner autonomy through creative, reflective, and iterative practice mindsets,” the authors underscore the importance of an instructional approach that is open to creativity and reflection. The authors discuss that although encouraging autonomy in the learning process requires teachers to forgo some instructional control and the need to create learning opportunities that support autonomy, this approach benefits students through the development of 21st century skills, which are necessary for success in the professional world (Henriksen, Cain, & Mishra, 2018). 

Following are some of the many 21st century skills that can be formed through project-based learning (

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Communication, teamwork and leadership skills 
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Information and communication technology, digital citizenship, and digital literacy 
  • Research skills
  • Planning and self-direction

Lastly, in a research paper titled, “Facilitating adoption of web tools for problem and project based learning activities,” the authors provide examples of the types of digital tools that are appropriate to use during various stages of project-based learning.  The paper provides an enlightening table detailing specific web-based tools that can assist students when they are working on various components of project-based learning, such as assimilating, communicating. producing, and practicing (Khalid, Rongbutsri, & Buus, 2012).  

In conclusion, project-based learning offers numerous benefits to college students and supports voice and choice in their educational pursuits. Dietetics students need opportunities to practice communicating their knowledge and skills using an instructional format that encourages revision and reflection and the opportunity to create products that are shared with the public. Project-based learning is an ideal teaching method for these purposes, and its use in dietetics education should be encouraged. 


21st Century Skills. (2016).

Henrickson, D., Cain, W., Mishra, P. (2018). Everyone designs: Learner autonomy through creative, reflective, and iterative practice mindsets. Journal of Formative Design in Learning, 2, 69-81. 

International Society for Technology in Education.

Khalid, M. S., Rongbutsri, N., & Buus, L. (2012). Facilitating Adoption of Web Tools for Problem and Project Based Learning Activities. In V. Hodgson, C. Jones, M. D. Laat, D. McConnell, T. Ryberg, & P. Sloep (Eds.), Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Networked Learning 2012 (pp. 559-566).

Lindsey, L., & Berger, N. (2009). Experiential approach to instruction. In Reigeluth, C., & CarrChellman, A. (2009). Instructional-design theories and models, volume III: Building a common knowledge base (pp. 118-40). Taylor & Francis Group. 

Rostom, M. (2019). Fostering students’ autonomy: Project-based learning as an instructional strategy. SOCIOINT 2019- 6th International Conference on Education, Social Sciences and Humanities

ISTE Standards for Coaching

The Importance of Online Research Skills in the Digital Age

The nutrition and dietetics profession is deeply rooted in evidence-based research and practice. Dietetics students become well-versed early in their academic careers in utilizing peer-reviewed journal articles, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Evidence Analysis Library, Cochrane databases, and other sources encouraged by faculty that provide evidence-based research and best practices. And although students are familiar with a variety of credible professional information sources, they may not have a solid grasp on the knowledge and skills required to search, locate, organize, evaluate, and synthesize online research. 

Therefore, a guiding question for students in understanding the goal of online research is as follows: What outcomes may be derived from successful implementation of online research skills?  

My inquiry aligns with ISTE Standard 3: Knowledge Constructor: “Curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions” (ISTE). 

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, when asked about the “impact of today’s digital environment on their students research habits and skills” (Purcell, et. al, 2012), some of the issues raised include the following: 

  • A decline in critical thinking skills
  • Ability to assess online information for quality 
  • Over-reliance on search engines 

A significant number of teachers surveyed emphasized the importance of teaching students online research skills, including how to evaluate sources of information, how to locate information without depending on search engines, and also how to utilize search engines for best results (Purcell et. al, 2012). 

Further, in an interview discussing how research skills are taught to college students, Fister provides excellent reasoning for why students may not demonstrate the abilities they possess in online research skills and knowledge. One point of discussion focuses on the course curriculum and assignment expectations. Students may not be as motivated to complete high-quality research for assignments that essentially don’t provide much room for “voice and choice.” This could include going through the motions to check off rubric boxes, such as page number and reference requirements (Fister, 2012). As college students are instructed on building knowledge and skills in online research practices, it makes a lot of sense that instructors also evaluate their research paper assignment expectations, and to consider offering voice and choice in what students research and how they present their findings. 

Further, in my role as a university professor, I often explore students’ prior knowledge, skills, and experiences attained and how they affect subsequent learning. In thinking about prior knowledge and skills acquired for effective online research practices, a logical retrospective perspective is an understanding of the competencies aligned with high school curricula. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, launched in 2009, contains overarching goals of preparing students for college and careers ( The majority of U.S. states have implemented Common Core Standards into their instruction and assessment practices, but they may differ from state to state. Upon reviewing Washington State Common Core Standards, I discovered that Washington aligns their educational technology standards with ISTE standards (Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction). Examples of evidence demonstrating that Washington State high school students have met the ISTE standard for knowledge constructor are as follows: 

  • “Students can modify search strategies to demonstrate resiliency in the research process.”
  • “Create a resource that outlines where and how students can access valid and reliable health information, products, and services.”
  • “Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation (Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction).”

It appears that Washington has a strong set of standards in place related to online research skills. However, since Common Core Standards are not standardized across all 50 states, it seems prudent to instruct all dietetics majors on basic knowledge and skills necessary for successful online research practices. 

In an article titled, “10 Strategic Steps for Teaching for Teaching Online Research Skills to Your Learners, the author stresses the importance of not assuming that because our students are “digital natives” and are fluent in many aspects of technology use, that they understand how to use the Internet properly for research purposes. Below are highlights of the article, which include basic knowledge and skills as well as practical tips that will benefit students as they use the Internet for research purposes ( 

  • Knowledge: 
    • Students need to understand the various types of domains present on the Internet and which (and whether) search domains should be used for research (e.g. org, .edu, gov). 
    • Scholarly search engines: Introduce students to a variety of scholarly search engines and encourage them to access them.
    • Encyclopedia use: Encourage students to review information found in scholarly online encyclopedias, but use caution when reviewing content on Wikipedia since contributions may be written by non-scholars. 
  • Skills: 
    • Students need to be taught online research skills. Students should realize that effective online research takes time, and they shouldn’t strive to locate information quickly by automatically using the first few search results. 
    • Examples of how to refine online research inquiries include the following: 
      • Searches should be specific rather than generalized or vague to increase likelihood of locating information that is beneficial. 
      • Searches linking two subjects can be done so by including a plus (+) sign in between concepts, such as vitamin C+ sources. 
      • Using an asterisk (*) as part of a search question can yield the answer. An example is: “The war of 1812 began because * .”
      • Time frame: Narrowing down search results to a specific time frame can be done in Google by clicking on tools then either finding a specific date or range of dates from which to receive search results. 
    • Higher level thinking skills, such as critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation are key to effectively determining validity and reliability of search results. 

In conclusion, although college students these days are considered digital natives and are familiar and comfortable with a wide variety of digital technologies, students need to develop digital literacy in online inquiry and research to be successful in their academic pursuits and in their careers. Allowing students voice and choice in what they choose to research and how they present their findings will likely increase intrinsic motivation and diligence throughout the online research process. 


Author unknown. 10 strategic steps for teaching online research to your learners. Wabisabi Learning.

Common Core State Standards Initiative.

International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. 

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. 2018 Educational technology standards.

Purcell, K, et al. How teens do research in the digital world. Pew Research Center.

Fister, B. Playing for Keeps: Rethinking how research is taught to today’s college students. Project Information Literacy.

ISTE Standards for Coaching

“Voice and Choice” in a Digitally-Enhanced Learner-Centered Curriculum

Imagine enrolling in a college course. You have no idea what to expect, but think you will likely learn from a prescribed curriculum whereby the instructor lectures on important principles and concepts. You also imagine that assessment of learning will be concentrated on lecture content and assigned book chapters, and evaluated by timed quizzes and exams. Much to your surprise, on the first day of class you are put into a small group where you and three of your peers begin making decisions on the topics of your collaborative blog posts that will soon communicate course content to the public.You and your peers will apply what you are learning in class in your posts, and you will develop important professional skills, including accessing and citing research properly, tailoring communications to specific target audiences, and learning how to communicate content in your field of study in layman’s terms.   

A comparison of pedagogical approaches juxtaposes the traditional knowledge-centered curricular model, which includes lecture style teaching and high stakes testing with the learner-centered curriculum where students are encouraged to be creative and self-directed in their learning (Ellis, 2013). I presume that most higher education curricula are a blend of both aforementioned approaches as well as the additional society-centered model, which focuses on group problem solving and activities as a means of improving the local community (Ellis, 2013). 

The idea of empowering students with “voice and choice” in their learning is based on the learner-centered curriculum, which stems from the progressive educational philosophy dating back to Dewey, an American educator who is known as the father of progressive education ( The learner-centered curriculum is a constructivist approach to learning, which includes activities that “…require students to engage in investigation and freedom of expression…and give them choices, fostering interest and passion in the subject” ( 

As a doctoral student studying Digital Education Leadership (DEL) the Seattle Pacific University (SPU) School of Education, I am interested in exploring the following question pertaining to “voice and choice” in a learner-centered curriculum: 

What are the benefits of offering undergraduate students autonomy in selecting and utilizing digital tools to demonstrate achievement of learning objectives?

This question addresses ISTE Standard 1 Empowered Learner: “Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences” (ISTE). 

As I unpack this question, I am interested in exploring research and best practices from the field of education, which address the following inquiries: 

  • What is the impact of “voice and choice” on student learning experiences and outcomes?
  • How does student choice in selecting and utilizing digital tools enhance learning experiences?
  • What guidelines are available that address instructional parameters on “voice and choice”?

Voice, Choice and Student Engagement (Robinson; Miller, 2016)

The following guidelines on voice and choice address the degree of choice, assignment parameters, and motivation: 

  • Guidelines for “voice and choice” should be provided to students for clarity on how they can demonstrate learning. 
  • Offering voice and choice in a curriculum may result in greater engagement and increased motivation, but when boundaries are too broad, students’ motivation and satisfaction may decrease. 
  • Too much autonomy can result in “choice overload.”
  • Offering 3-5 options from which students can choose can prevent choice overload.
  • Allow students to choose their peer groups and the audiences they will present their project to.
  • Allowing students to explore their passions increases student agency and increases engagement in the learning process. 

Technology-Enhanced Student-Centered Learning (Lan, 2018)

Lan, 2018 provides an introduction to a set of research papers on the role of technology in “cultivating learner creation and learner autonomy ownership.” The following points stood out as important considerations when integrating technology into coursework: 

  • Autonomous learners show characteristics of intrinsic motivation, risk taking, engagement, and responsibility in the learning process. 
  • Integrating technology into the classroom environment needs to be thoughtful, intentional, and used with effective, student-centered pedagogy in mind

As I continue to evolve as a professor due to my years of professional experience along with the influences of my doctoral education, it is my desire to continue researching best practices when integrating digital technology into a learner-centered curriculum that allows voice and choice in how students demonstrate their learning. This approach to instruction empowers students to focus on their interests while developing important skills necessary for success as practitioners. 


Author unknown. What is student-centered curriculum? Edupedia.  

Author unknown. (2021). Progressive Education. 

Ellis, R. (2013). Exemplars of curriculum theory. Routledge. 

International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. 

Lan, Yu-Ju. (2018). Technology enhanced learner ownership and learner autonomy through creation. Educational Technology Research and Development, 66, 859-62.  

Miller, A. (2016). Voice and choice: It’s more than just what. Edutopia.

Robinson, C. Digital Promise. Does offering students a choice in assignments lead to greater engagement?