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Wednesday, June 18 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
PSD.29 – From Undergraduates to Adult Learners: Transforming Our Students Through the Final Course Project

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Much has been written about  the theoretical and abstract aspects of transformation in education.  But what kinds of very specific techniques and practices (in the classroom and out) foster transformation? How do we help the adolescent learner transform into the adult learner, ready to take his or her place as critical thinker and self-directed learner throughout a lifetime?

Over the past ten years, I have experimented with an almost entirely open-ended final project, in interdisciplinary courses in the humanities. My only requirement for one project was that students must use the written word (in additional to other media if they choose) and that the projects must somehow integrate some of the things they have learned and discovered throughout the course.  In another course, they were required to create 10 written reflections on our general topic, five of which had to directly integrate course material. Initially, students were astounded and even horrified by the vagueness of such a project.  But the results were also astounding in the very best possible ways. This kind of open-ended project unleashed creativity and collaboration that I'd never seen so consistently in my students. In the beginning, I undertook this approach in a small, liberal arts college, where students tend to be creative and where they are quite comfortable in asking questions about assignments.  We spent a great deal of class time brainstorming about aspects of these projects (essays, fiction, sculpture, painting, music, slam poetry and hybrids of these forms). More recently at a publicly funded university, I've tried the same project with similar results.  A literature review of the research on student journals, summative projects and portfolios reveals that most of the research is done in the fields of clinical and experiential learning, like healthcare, engineering, education, in which students must meet demanding rubrics for professional standards.

Assessing true transformation is difficult, but we can construct assignments and atmospheres that are conducive to real change in all of our students, not just those in applied fields. Reflecting on this experience makes me realize that as postsecondary educators, we need to improve our knowledge and understanding of the principles of adult education.  Androgagy (pioneered by Malcolm Knowles) suggests life experience (from which an individual may draw) as a resource for learning. The results of the projects from my recent course (on environmental literature) will show that students learned to place themselves at the centre of their learning--not in a facile way, but in a way that reflects the critical inquiry and self-reflection of the adult learner.  Guided by clear course objectives, students can strike out on a path of educational discovery; rather than learning about biology and art, they can learn to be biologists and artists. 

In this session, I will present a brief framework of key principles in adult education (androgagy and perspective transformation) and the results of my recent course projects (with visuals, with permission from the students). I will also invite participants to share their own experience.  Why isn't this being done more frequently in non-applied fields of study?  If it is, why are we not writing about it?



Wednesday June 18, 2014 11:00am - 12:30pm
A234 McArthur Hall

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