This article describes the use of collaborative project-based learning as a format for teaching a course in management of counseling programs. Student reactions concerning opportunities to develop leadership, cooperation, and communication skills are provided. Recommendations for teaching this course and other counselor education courses in such a nontraditional manner are included.
Counselors today are expected to provide a comprehensive and balanced guidance program in their schools. In doing so, they must demonstrate leadership skills through the use of effective planning and organization as well as work cooperatively with administrators and other colleagues (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000). These abilities and competencies include many related process skills such as designing new projects, motivating others, and conducting meetings. Such skills are difficult to teach as well as learn in a typical classroom setting. Traditional approaches to instruction often fail to provide real-life projects that require authentic problem-solving tasks. The opportunity to assess multiple sources of information or to interact collaboratively with other learners is often missed. These learning opportunities are necessary for students to construct meaningful knowledge and skills if they are to be used later on the job (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).
The applied clinical courses (i.e., counseling lab, pre-practicum, practicum, and internship) in counselor training are designed as skill-based learning opportunities. In these courses, students typically work with actual clients with real problems that require individual solutions. Other courses, such as foundations of counseling and counseling theories, typically emphasize content and knowledge. They are difficult to teach in a skill-based manner due to the type of textbook used, the nature of the material covered, and in many cases, the size and organization of the class. With the recent movement toward program development and the necessity for counselor and program accountability (Borders & Drury, 1992), it becomes imperative that counselor education programs teach in a way that provides skills necessary for developing and managing counseling programs. This article describes an example of a nontraditional approach to teaching a basic counseling course "Management of Counseling Programs" in a project-based manner. As the course evolved, it became clear that the skills involved in leadership, cooperation, and communication were also being practiced as students worked together in small groups. An example of one of the instructional topics, Planning, is presented along with student observations and reactions about the group experience. Recommendations for using this approach with other counseling courses are provided.
Collaborative Project-Based Learning
Recently, counselor education has been questioned and criticized for ignoring or at least providing only minimal attention to teaching foundational knowledge over other aspects of counselor training. "The majority of our efforts have focused on teaching helping skills or conducting effective supervision," wrote Sexton (1998, p.66) rather than exploring more effective ways to present the basic courses. The special section of Counselor Education and Supervision (December, 1998) focused on pedagogical issues in counselor education. It was the second in a three part series examining the most current knowledge in supervision, teaching and clinical training in counselor education. The section discussed the apparent lack of attention placed on alternative teaching models and methods. It presented a challenge to counselor educators to spend more time in this area. Meeting this challenge, which includes the consideration of new ways to teach foundation courses, should create opportunities for students to struggle with more realistic counseling dilemmas (Nelson & Neufeldt, 1998). Becoming skillful learners and practitioners rather than merely passive recipients of foundational, textbook knowledge should be the students' goal. …