Expeditionary learning for learningSudheendra SavanurQuite rightly school managements value traditions and experience. But in an era of rapid societal and global change, past experience may prove inadequate to prepare children for the future. To cite one example, digital information and communication technologies are changing patterns of work, play, social interaction, and economic exchange worldwide. Therefore academic organisations of all types are taking stock of how to adapt their existing practices to meet the requirements of the new century. Schools, like the rest of society need to change and are subject to the same tensions, risks, and uncertainties that other organisations experience. In education, numerous forces are influencing change. Hundreds of reform efforts have created complex partnerships between teachers, parents, school administrators, university, corporate, government and community leaders. But reform and renewal efforts differ according to institutional priorities and the responses to challenges confronting them. School reform requires whole school programmatic shifts whereas renewal might involve the implementation of a new idea in one part of a school, a new plan for professional development, or a novel way to address a particular challenge. To help education leaders contemplating changes which could transform childrens‚ schooling experience and prepare them to excel in academics, work and society, I recommend Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) ‚ a comprehensive school reform and development model for elementary, middle, and high schools. ELOB has pioneered the development of core practice benchmarks and design principles for implementing learning expeditions.Learning expeditions are long term, in-depth investigations of a subject which engage students through authentic projects, field work, and service. The work students do during learning expeditions centres on critical thinking, essential skills, habits and character development. Ongoing assessment is woven into the expeditions, pushing students to higher levels of performance in pursuit of academic excellence.Learning expeditions grew out of the metaphor of outward bound wilderness explorations. Although they begin with clear goals and a plan, expeditions take unexpected turns when they encounter adventure. They take teachers and students beyond the boundaries of past experience. Asking participants to draw on the resources found within a group, wilderness excursions and/ or learning expeditions require them to meet challenges, solve problems, and arrive at destinations that at first seemed improbable.Individuals on expeditions must persevere and exercise judgement. Members of an expedition team learn to develop close relationships, mutual dependence and cooperation. Simultaneously students learn new concepts and out-of-the-box thinking to view problems from multiple perspectives, and to apply concepts, tools of disciplines and professional knowledge to solve real world problems. ELOB encompasses all learning related to a given topic or subject and involves reading and discussion, skills building and practice, project work including drafting and revision, field work, etc. Expeditions are often integrated across disciplines, though they are more likely to focus on a single discipline in secondary school.In an expeditionary learning school, experiential learning is the central focus of curriculum and instruction, not an add-on or enrichment activity. It is the primary pedagogy for learning the content and skills which prepare students for required tests. The subjects, questions, and learning goals that give shape to learning expectations, are developed according to experiential norms and standards.It is important to appreciate that expeditionary learning goes beyond projects, interdisciplinary units and thematic studies. The emphasis is on field work, service, and the multiple revisions encouraged to produce quality work. In particular ELOB has developed benchmarks that expand the elements of learning expeditions and checklists to evaluate their implementation and assess quality. Moreover, there are intangibles of expeditionary learning which are beyond definition, benchmarks and rubric. This makes the whole experience a journey of discovery into the unknown.All of us willy-nilly have engaged in some form of experiential learning. Deep down we understand that words are insufficient substitutes for experience. Language can lead us to the edge of the water, but we have to jump in and experience the power of its current, the subtleties of its shifting sands, the measure of its defining banks. We have to learn to let it carry us along for a while to appreciate its changing landscapes, its variety of hidden life, its dead ends and destinations. Every teacher adds his touch of creativity to an expedition by connecting it with his/ her own experiences and understanding. We try to distill the key components of experiential learning by way of comparisons and analyses. Because of the essential role experience plays in creating expeditions, there can never be a recipe, or a clear road map which repeats the experience of a predecessor expedition. Of course there are guidelines for planning expeditions before we set out and for comparing them with the actual experience. Perhaps the best definition of a learning expedition is that it entices you to jump in and participate. These guidelines will be outlined in subsequent contributions to this page. (Sudheendra Savanur is a Bangalore-based behavioural scientist and education consultant)
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