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Social Pedagogies: An opportunity for authentic learning?

Posted by on Saturday, February 18, 2012 in News.

This is a post written by Graduate Teaching Fellow, Megan McMurtry.

One way to motivate student engagement with course material is to make use of social pedagogies.  Social Pedagogies are “design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call and ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course” (Randall Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, of Georgetown University).   By creating an authentic audience for students, students are more likely to engage with course content in ways that promote deep learning.   There are many ways to do this: group projects, class presentations, blogs, wikis, student publications, etc.

Caitlyn Durning's 'french persona' Facebook page which is a part of her coursework. Caitlyn says: "The amazing curriculum that’s been developed for this French class just shows me how much professors at Vanderbilt want to keep the students engaged in the material."

Vanderbilt’s Admissions office runs a blog called Inside Dores featuring posts by Vanderbilt students.  Two recent posts highlighted the way two classes have found of promoting student learning through use of social pedagogies.  In the first post, written by VU Sophomore Caitlyn Durning, students developed their foreign language skills by creating an online persona and interacting with others in the target language.  Students practiced the language in a more realistic manner than scenarios contrived to fit a chosen set of weekly vocabulary.  Weekly vocabulary drills can be useful, but using a foreign language in real-life scenarios fosters a deeper acquisition of the language.  Students were able to acquire functional use of language because they incorporated it into their everyday lives instead of merely memorizing it for an exam.   In this instance, the professor uses tools that the students are already using (Facebook), to encourage practical engagement with the subject in a way that moves the students toward a deeper, more long-lasting and practical use of the language.   This type of work provides the students with useful practice in a fun and engaging way.

The second Inside Dores blog post – Published? As an Undergrad? – written by Junior Erica Graff successfully highlights several aspects of social pedagogies.  This particular student’s group project analyzed and compared differences in rural and urban water quality. Students encounter and interact with the material in tangible ways instead of solely through isolated abstract discussions.  This doesn’t mean that the abstract or theoretical conversations are shunted to the side.  Rather, the interaction they have with the research is a way of piquing their interest and preparing them for the more complex discussion or the theory behind the research.  This project also had the added motivation of publication and peer reviews.  Bass and Elmendorf have shown that students are more motivated articulate their ideas and organize them well if they are presenting to their peers or in a public forum rather than merely turning in a paper or project to their professor.  Students assume that their professors will “fill in the gaps” in their reasoning assuming professors “will know what they mean” and are therefore less likely to clearly communicate their ideas.  Additionally, students tend to be motivated by peer approval.  Presenting one’s project to the class or in print encourages student to do well, while also letting them experience the process and the fun (yes, fun) of research.

The reasons these projects are successful is that they engage students in activities they are already doing; they demonstrate the relevance and applicability of the course content; and, they create an authentic audience.

You can read more about social pedagogies in courese at Vanderbilt by visiting these links:

  • Recently, CFT Director Derek Bruff visited Georgetown University and heard the term, which prompted some thought about authentic learning and student motivation. On his blog and in a Chronicle of Higher Education article in November 2011, Derek shares some examples of how he’s used social pedagogies in his courses at Vanderbilt.
  • Last spring, David Salisbury, one of the writers for Vanderbilt’s Research News, blogged about the inquiry-based biological sciences lab course designed and taught by senior lecturer Steve Baskauf. The course is an alternative to the standard second-semester lab course. It offers students an opportunity to design their own experiments to answer open questions in biology instead of working through the traditional “cookbook” style labs often seen in other science lab courses.
  • In December 2011, the Vanderbilt Mobile Application Team (VMAT) was profiled in Campus Technology. VMAT develops iPhone- and Android-compatible apps for the Vanderbilt campus, teaches dozens of students how to program mobile apps. VMAT is one of many student organizations that encourages students to apply their classroom-learned skills to outside-of-the-classroom opportunities. Doug Schmidt, a professor of computer science and one of the faculty members who helped organize VMAT, echoes this in the profile by saying: “A key mission of Vanderbilt University is to help students become leaders of the future by encouraging entrepreneurship, technical excellence, and innovation, as well as honing their collaboration and communication skills.”

The CFT also offers consultations on this topic – give us a call today to discuss how you might incorporate any of these ideas into a course you’re teaching.



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