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Problem-Based learning at Maastricht University (4:38)
Although a promotional spot for prospective students, this video nicely details goals, roles, stages, and terms common in “problem-based learning.”
Project Based Learning: Explained (3:49)
Through examples, the video promotes this method’s educational value and capacity to develop critical thinking, cooperation, and communication.
Problem-Based Learning at SIU PA Program (11:25)
Goals, roles, and stages (including self-assessment) of problem-based learning demonstrated through a case study approach to physician assistant training. Video emphasizes the active learning dimension of problem-based learning.
Open Space Learning: A Study in Transdisciplinary Pedagogy
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Open-Space Learning (OSL), a “transdisciplinary pedagogy” as practiced at the University of Warwick, challenges assumptions about the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge, the organization of teaching spaces and resources, and the power arrangements that order the roles of teachers and students. This book bears witness to the efficacy of learning in spaces that assume students are engaged in embodied risk-taking, problem-based play, personal responsibility, group collaboration, and open-ended exploration within boundaries and expectations that yield demonstrated competence. The essential prefix for this learning space is “trans-”; it is asserted to be transgressive, transcendent, transitional, trans-rational, transactional, transdisciplinary, and transcultural. OSL draws from the learning theories of Boal, Freire, Vygotsky, Gardner, and Kolb and from the work of Clark and Damasio in neuroscience.
In 2005 the University of Warwick received a grant from the Higher Education Funding Counsel of England to create its center for Creativity and Performance in Teaching and Learning (CAPITAL) in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Principles of theater pedagogy and performance studies opened new learning possibilities for disciplines not normally associated with embodied performance. The OSL website at the university notes collaborations between CAPITAL and students in business, chemistry, cultural studies, theater studies, philosophy, math, and psychiatry programs. The authors indicate that hundreds of students have been exposed to their learning pedagogies between 2007 and 2011.
Four case studies create the backbone for the book. (1) An undergraduate module “without chairs” for literature majors brought twelve of Shakespeare’s plays to life and assessed student learning in comparison with students in the “with chairs” version of the module. (2) Law students argued cases found in four plays and analyzed their legal implications. (3) The learning gained by participants in the Certificate in Teaching Shakespeare program and the Postgraduate Award in Teaching Shakespeare for Actors is assessed using several measures. (4) Three “practice as research” projects focused on theatrical productions, practical workshops, and performance process for undergraduate students or post-graduates who were teaching Shakespeare. These studies provide descriptions and interpretations of the projects, but they do not offer much detail about the pedagogy’s methods for those without a theater background.
The book publisher provides videos and outlines for specific OSL activities on its website. (I was not successful in getting a number of the links to work.) The OSL site at the University of Warwick provides similar links as well as some others. (This website has not been updated since fall 2013, which also raises questions about the current state of OSL at Warwick.) This book was published as a paperback in 2015. Open Space Learning reads like a report for university or funding organization officials. The authors give significant attention to student assessment of their learning and their performance on various required assignments.
Classroom lectures and seminars, characterized negatively as contexts of “knowledge download,” were the dominant forms of teaching when CAPITAL began. OSL intentionally changes, at least in theory, the relationship between teachers and students, “dethroning” or “uncrowning” the power of the teacher that is reinforced by physical classroom spaces and presentation formats.
I am not satisfied that the authors grappled with the power dynamics that remain present in OSL environments. While a teacher’s authority and expertise are expressed differently in the OSL context, teachers are still structuring the environment in which learning occurs. They are evaluating student work. They determine who passes or fails the modules. While teachers may have been “dethroned” from the traditionally hierarchical ways of exercising authority, they still have power, and perhaps disguised power, in the exploratory OSL context.
The expressions of open space learning reported in this book depend heavily on the plays of Shakespeare. These applications of OSL for religious or theological educators are not immediately obvious, but imaginative teachers, especially those with a performing arts background, will draw inspiration from Open Space Learning and develop possibilities for performing the narrative-based texts from their disciplines in their teaching.
Experiential Education in the College Context: What it is, How it Works, and Why it Matters
Date Reviewed: March 4, 2016
Experiential Education in the College Context provides a useful introduction to both the theoretical underpinnings and the practical application of experiential education. Roberts, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Director of the Center for Integrated Learning at Earlham College, writes out of his experience as a faculty member, administrator, and philosopher of education. His volume is well-equipped as a guide for leaders in higher education interested in “harnessing the power of the live encounter between students and teachers” (xi).
Roberts divides the volume into two main sections, the first covering theoretical aspects of experiential education and the second exploring its practical facets. Each section is comprised of four chapters. Chapter one introduces the reader to the current educational landscape, noting that it is not merely a time of “disruption and destabilization,” but a time of “tremendous opportunity” (18). Chapter two defines experiential education, teasing out some of its many implications through three curriculum models. In chapter three, Roberts sorts experiential education models into “four core methodologies”: active learning, community-based learning, integrative learning, and problem and project-based learning (63). Chapter four identifies models such as the seat paradigm and the teacher as expert paradigm that educators should leave behind as they embrace an experiential approach. In chapters five through eight, Roberts shifts to the practical application of the theoretical principles discussed in the first half of the book. Chapter five considers design, chapter six facilitation, chapter seven assessment, and chapter eight the integration of experiential education in the college classroom and across the campus. Finally, the Afterword places experiential education in the wider world of the academy, and an Appendix offers a reference list for a variety of experiential education programs.
My one critique – and it is a small one – of Roberts’s work is that he quotes too many secondary scholars at length. Block quotes fill the pages and definitions abound. The volume would have been infinitely more accessible had he compiled the many definitions in a glossary in the back of the volume and confined his extensive dialogue with other scholars to the footnotes. Still, Roberts’s volume provides rich descriptions of the variety of practices that fit under the experiential education umbrella and offers useful examples for incorporating these models in the classroom. In short, the text offers a fine introductory resource.
Roberts wrote this book “for students who wish to learn more about the theoretical concepts behind the approach, for faculty who might be interested in what experiential education looks like in practice, and for administrators trying to respond programmatically and creatively to a rapidly changing landscape in higher education” (xi). While I am not convinced that many students will wade through its theoretical waters, the volume does address the needs of faculty and administrators investigating the possibilities that experiential education offers. I will carry Roberts’s image of “teachers as curators of experience” rather than “content providers” with me for a long time (81).
Unfit to Be a Slave: A Guide to Adult Education for Liberation
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2015
David Greene’s Unfit to Be a Slave sets out to address the role that education should play in society. His argument rests on the assumption that current educational opportunities are limiting or exploitive of adult working students. He says, “today, the corporations and financiers benefit from the ignorance and silence of the population. The less information and understanding people have, the more they can be misled and controlled” (71; this criticism is borne out in more detail in chapters 4 and 5). The current trend towards “job skills education” is elicited as a prime example of inadequate higher educational opportunities which serve the interests of corporations and not students. Greene argues that “the duty of an educator is to broaden the horizons of learning and challenge the limitations they [students] face” (53). Thus, for Greene, successful education arrives at the “maximal development of intellect, understanding, culture, and awareness of the world around us” (9). Further, effective education must aim to develop students as leaders, and empower them for success, rather than giving them only skills requisite for low-wage or menial employment.
In an effort to ameliorate these problems, Greene presents an outline of a pedagogical system built on Paulo Freire’s idea of “problem posing education.” This model starts with the dissolution of customary boundaries between teacher and student, recognizing that both students and teachers need to learn, and both can teach. Greene builds on this model, advocating that education ought to be focused on the collective development of a set of central literacies: functional literacy, civic or political literacy, health literacy, environmental literacy, and financial and economic literacy (22). Each of these literacies includes competencies for both individual and corporate ends, and Greene’s argument posits they can be gained through what he calls “central tools,” which are: listening, the recognition of pre-existing student knowledge, discussions about real problems faced in daily life, and the advocation and organization of specific actions to combat those problems (71-77). Greene also strongly suggests that education not be confined to the classroom. He contends that higher education must empower students to change society and he provides examples from his own teaching that underscore this need.
Unfit to Be a Slave does not contain any quick fix techniques to import into your classroom to move towards a more effective classroom experience, rather it presents an idea of education that is much broader and more holistic. Throughout the book Greene strives to promote a broad educational model that is directed not to the acquisition of job skills themselves, but to an increased ability of students to function well in society and to live well. The book focuses on the plight of adult workers, and takes particular pains to explain the oppressive economic and social factors working against the thriving of adults in the workforce. Personal politics aside, faculty are reminded that life exists outside of the ivory tower of academia, and that student experience informs their perspectives on theoretical matters, and can be marshaled as an asset to an effective learning experience for both the instructor of record and the students enrolled in the course.
What Did You Learn In The Real World Today?: The Case of Practicum In University Educations
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
Henriksen’s edited volume, What Did You Learn in the Real World Today, is a collection of sophisticated and philosophically-grounded essays that shift pedagogical foci from how we teach to “what is learned” and “how is it learned” (18). The dense essays are divided into three sections. First is knowledge, learning and practice; next is the role a student’s body plays in learning and constructing new knowledge; finally, there is problem-based learning (PBL) and practicum. The Danish Aalborg University Press funded and published the project and the specific case studies (five of the eleven chapters) do reflect a public Norwegian graduate engineering program. That said, the essays, particularly in the first and second sections, have much wider relevance for re-thinking teaching practices in any discipline from the perspective of learning. They convincingly argue that applied understanding “in the real world” generates new knowledge that beneficially challenges and reshapes the theory and tradition we teach in our classrooms.
It seems odd that a book promoting practicums and problem based learning is so thoroughly steeped in philosophical theory. But this is precisely the point. The essays here challenge the presumed “theory-practice dichotomy” (for example 23, 35, 53-4) by engaging the philosophical discussions of Aristotle, Dewey, Gadamer, Freire, and Bourdieu with case studies on practicums. The discussions of “techne, epistemi, poiein,” and so forth, break open the categories of “knowledge” and “learning” in fruitful ways (28-9). Student activity thus mediates thinking and being (40). The authors advocate for problem-based learning (53) that engages each student in a dialectic of dynamic knowing and doing rather than a direct transfer of static knowledge (what my students call “regurgitation”) through the “banking model” (54). This is a post-modern, and even a post-rationalist (chapter 4), exploration of learning. By challenging the primacy of theory over practice, of thinking over doing, these essays seek to integrate the whole student into the learning process (such as “Embodiment as the Existential Soil of Practice” by Thøgersen, 69-80). Indeed, the concept of learning as transformation is palpable across all of the essays (5, 23) and includes aesthetic and ethical dimensions of learning (58-8). This is helpful thinking for Liberal Arts institutions that will appreciate the argument for how and what students learn as grounded in the moral aspects of techne and phronesis rather than the more abstracted (from “real life”) episteme (60-1).
Henriksen introduces the project in chapter 1 and alternates between philosophical theory in one chapter and concrete case studies in the next. Chapters 2 (on “epistemology, learning, and practice” and 3 (“the logic of practice”) are the philosophical grounding for Henriksen’s case study on an engineering practicum in chapter 4. Learning is not absorption and “reproduction,” but is instead the “production” of knowledge that comes through the engaged learning of the practicum (19). Chapter 5 then lays the next philosophical groundwork (what is the role of the physical body in learning) for the case study in chapter 6 that examines body language and spatial relationships in medical consultations to evaluate the use of electronic health records in Danish hospitals. More technology renders the physical presence of the patient irrelevant. Chapter 7, perhaps the weakest chapter, connects Dewey’s “process of inquiry” with Gadamer’s “hermeneutics” to describe how a student locates herself in a professional (“swampy”) context and negotiates solutions using both practical and theoretical tools. Chapter 8 offers support for this solution in the “real-world-on-campus” case study from the Aalborg Problem Based Learning model. Chapters 9 and 10 respectively evaluate PBL by analyzing student “employability,” the role of the university engaged in the world, and the success of Aalborg’s PBL model in multiple European contexts. Further integration and incorporation of the practicum into university curricula demands a dialectical conversation between case studies in the field, classrooms, and campuses so that theory and practice are mutually reshaping one another.
In the final analysis, What Did You Learn in the Real World requires effort, not only to appreciate the threads of the philosophical conversations, or the (mostly) northern European educational contexts, but also because the English phrasing is rough and not intuitive for native speakers. That said, although Scandinavian engineering programs are quite remote from U.S. seminaries or even undergraduate Liberal Arts institutions, the bulk of these essays open fascinating conversations about learning, knowledge, and engagement of the whole person – student and teacher (à la Freire) – in both study and practice. In other words, the deep wrestling with antecedent philosophers and pedagogues to articulate what students learn in practicum and how students learn it has much to offer our collective thinking about engaged learning in diverse institutional contexts. It becomes quite clear that “how we learn” does and will have consequences for what we learn, and especially for how we construct knowledge.