Inhabited Pedagogies: Reports from the Field
By Lisa Endersby and Natasha May
On March 14, 2019, three colleagues from the Teaching Commons attended a session titled Inhabited Pedagogy: A Cross-Disciplinary Teaching Workshop. This session was an opportunity to learn more about the various ways that faculty and graduate students in LA&PS and beyond are exploring the benefits and boundaries of experiential education in the classroom. The agenda featured several presentations that showcased how students could engage with a variety of topics across a diverse set of teaching and learning strategies. Much of the discussion was informed by a research-oriented approach to understanding how, when, and where students can engage deeply with our content through and by experience. These experiences may help our students to more deeply or fully inhabit the pedagogies, practices, and knowledge that we teach – instead of relying only on a surface or transactional study of the course material, these discussions invited participants to deeply engage with the what, why, and when of teaching and learning.
Below are reflections from each of our colleagues who attended the session. Indicative of the cross-disciplinary and diverse perspectives shared during the event, we each discovered our own unique insights that can be interested into ongoing discussions of experiential education and meaningful, in class teaching activities:
Natasha May (Educational Developer)
This event was a wonderful opportunity to see how the two main activities of university, research and teaching, combine and work together. The presenters all had a passion for what they spoke about, from sword-play to ethics and cultural appropriation. Bringing this passion into the classroom not only makes the joy of teaching more pronounced, but also benefits students as well. As a student I certainly appreciated when my professors would bring their research into the classroom. This is particularly useful for first year students as they learn and explore the academic culture of university. In addition to the opportunity to immerse yourself in the time period you are studying in a history class and to engage in serious and authentic sword-play, being exposed to an expert who studies, researches and critiques the literature on sword-play as well as has the expertise to know how to hold and use a sword opens up a whole new world for students. On the flip side, researchers from dance and humanities immersed themselves in contemporary regency weekends and renfairs, respectively, and will undoubtedly bring these experiences and their research on the topic into classrooms. Through their presentations at the session, participants are now aware of these events and the different experiential opportunities that they could consider incorporating into their own courses. Another alternative for the combination of research and teaching that was presented at this session was research into teaching. More specifically, can computer games teach history? Can the experiential learning opportunities used in primary school transfer to university? One of the best parts of this workshop for me was the opportunity to connect with colleagues, engage in interesting discussions and to highlight and celebrate teaching and research together.
Lisa Endersby (Educational Developer)
What struck me as a common theme across many of the presentations at this session was the emphasis on the experience of student learning. Many recent conversations in experiential education have captured the challenge and benefits of reflection as a pedagogical strategy for encouraging deep, meaningful learning. Reflection as a strategy and as a skill, however, is often only as meaningful as the experience that provides inspiration for thinking back and looking ahead. What experiences are we creating for students to reflect in and on?
The notion of inhabited pedagogies inspired me to consider how our students may truly inhabit the experiences we facilitate inside the classroom. Designing an experience for students that will, ideally, inspire critical reflection means we must attend to far more than the number of chairs in the room or what time the class will start and finish. If we consider reflection as a skill that can be practiced and developed, these experiences must provide guidance and support for scaffolded skill development. Often, an experience, much like reflection, could be something we see as ‘just happening’ for our students – each class is itself an experience, much like any internship or community placement is an experience that our students can engage in. Relying too heavily on circumstance, however, may mean that we miss out on opportunities to help students truly inhabit their experience. We may, for example, provide guiding questions to help focus their attention on aspects or moments to focus their ‘data collection’ for future reflections. Each experience is also an opportunity to introduce, reinforce, or perhaps even remove elements that ‘force’ or inspire a perspective that may be different or unique. The experiences that guide, inspire, or begin our experiential learning activities in the classroom are an integral yet sometimes overlooked part of the experiential education cycle. Viewing each experience through the lens of how students may inhabit a new perspective, character, or idea may help us consider how we may set them up for success in learning the act and art of critical reflection.
Our colleague and post doctoral visitor, Alice Kim, also engaged in some inhabited pedagogy as an amateur sword fighter. This was an interesting display of the level of detailed guidance our students may need to meaningfully engage in experiential learning inside our classrooms – it’s often much more than we think!
What might inhabited pedagogies look like in your department? How are you sharing your approaches to teaching and learning with your colleagues? Tell us more in the comments below.