This is the third article in our iTeach.MSU playlist for the Spartan Studios Playkit.
🔧 Earlier phases of the Studios project developed a framework for experiential learning with the acronym GORP: Gravity, Ownership, Relationship, and Place (Heinrich, Lauren, & Logan, under review). The acronym GORP stands for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts” and emerged from one of the researchers’ background in outdoor education. The GORP framework is a key aspect of how we have designed Studios courses. We have seen how its 4 elements can lead to transformational learning experiences for students in Studios courses. (Heinrich et al. 2021). We encourage you to consider how the following 4 elements of the framework might fit in your own experiential course. They aren’t all-or-nothing, and course instructors can decide in what ways to incorporate them into your course design.
▶️Gravity: Give students a challenge or opportunity that matters to them and they’ll be motivated. The primary motivator for student work in a traditional course is usually the assessment or grade. By organizing your experiential course around a significant challenge, a wicked problem, or an opportunity for students to meaningfully participate in or affect their world, you can offer students an alternative motivator: making a difference to communities affected by these challenges. A course description that includes this gravity can help attract students who are passionate about that issue. Keep gravity central as you design your course and students’ interactions with community partners. A holistic approach to grading, where students are assessed on their overall participation, processes, and reflections about their experience, helps to prevent the course grade from reasserting itself as the gravity. In other words, shift the point of gravity for students away from the grade.
▶️Ownership: Give students autonomy throughout the experiential course, from the design of their projects through their implementation. Let them manage their teams and be accountable to each other for their work. Having this ownership movitates high levels of engagement with the course material and assignments and increases participation. In a course with high ownership, students see themselves as creators and contributors to real conversations with the course’s local partners. This could even extend to giving students autonomy over elements of your course design. Include opportunities for emergent outcomes that aren’t predetermined in the course design (for example, be flexible about the kinds of projects that are within the scope of the course, or students being able to pivot their approach based on new ideas) and for students to steer the instruction.
▶️Relationship: Experiential courses give instructors the opportunity to reset the traditional teacher-student relationship. Be a coach in addition to a lecturer. You can support students’ work on their teams and be a resource for them as they solve problems that emerge during their work. This could look like instructors circulating as student teams explain their project plans and giving feedback or suggesting alternatives the students hadn’t considered. Even something as simple as putting yourself at the same literal level as your students, instead of lecturing from the front of the room, can contribute to a more even relationship. Learn from the students outside your discipline, and encourage students to learn from each other. By removing yourself as the gatekeeper of acceptable solutions, you empower students to learn from their choices. These reconfigured relationships require trust within student teams, within the team of co-instructors, and between students and faculty. And although instructors ultimately do have power over students’ evaluations, try to avoid sudden reassertions of that power which can undermine student ownership and trust. Students (and faculty!) may be uncomfortable at first with such a dramatic shift in agency; you should be explicit that this will be a different kind of learning experience. We suggest making reflection on the new relationships part of your classroom culture. Instructors should be empowered to facilitate student-driven learning while also providing the benefits of their expertise, knowledge, and judgement. We offer more advice and examples in “Coaching” below.▶️Place: Because Studios courses connect to local needs or partners in specific places, you can focus your teaching on those places and connect them to students’ work. These places can be elsewhere on campus, in the local community, or even abroad. Visit it if you can (physically or virtually), and have students experience and reflect on their time outside the classroom. Places resonate, even if they can’t visit in-person. Encourage students to form their own connections with the place: What does it mean to them or to the community impacted by the course’s challenge? Also, think about your teaching space. Early Studios courses were held in the Hub’s flex space, a room with moveable furniture and whiteboard walls that students could reconfigure based on their teams’ needs. A flexible and collaborative mindset open to new and radical student-driven possibilities is part of the conceptual space we want to build in these courses. This flexibility and connection is also possible in virtual classrooms and workspaces. Consider the learning affordances of both physical and virtual spaces that can enhance your students’ experience.
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