“Bringing the World to the Classroom”: Cultural Studies and Experiential Learning
The theoretical frameworks we use in the humanities and social sciences to parse out the interpersonal, institutional, and structural power relationships in terms of race, gender, class and nationality, and the historical processes which have advanced these relationships are useful in organizing significant issues and events in digestible forms. Our lived experiences are an essential part of our learning of the world around us. These experiences are exceptionally poignant for teaching cultural forms, social identities, economic processes, socio-ecological relationships, and formation of power and knowledge, topics, and themes at the core of cultural studies. In this chapter, I offer ideas, techniques, and methods for merging theory and practice in cultural studies. I reflect upon my experiences in creating experiential learning environments in interdisciplinary courses and situate this mode of education as essential to the project of cultural studies. My intervention here goes against the newer trends in higher education and the growth of virtual learning systems and recovers and adjusts to the classroom the merits of established fieldwork principles of scholarly fields such as anthropology, archaeology, and environmental sciences. The practical and creative strategies I am offering here are not new, but reinventions of the learning practices of art, design, and even biological sciences. In personal feedback and written evaluations, students have stated that experiential learning-focused units and assignments have been the most memorable moments of the courses I have taught. This is key for our educational goals in cultural studies. We want our students to move beyond their grades and toward remembering and using the frameworks they have learned, through which they make sense of and analyze the world around them.
I am grateful to the opportunity SIS has given me to expand my pedagogical skills and learn different strategies of experiential learning. My team leaders and colleagues Paul Gorski, Thomas Wood, Karen Misencik Carter, Kris Erickson and Al Fuertes (among many others) were instrumental in the development of these courses and assignments. They introduced me to experiential learning strategies and mentored me through our years of team teaching at SIS. Their dedicated support and generosity in sharing their experiences, knowledge and methods made it possible for me to expand my skills and have something to say about pedagogy and course design.
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