A NEW ECOLOGY OF LEARNING: ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS AS PEDAGOGICAL MODELS

Pavel Cenkl – Sterling College – November 2012

Abstract

This white paper introduces a new ecology of learning and innovative connections between ecological and a humanities curriculum. Drawing on points of intersection between experiential liberal arts education, digital humanities, biomimicry, and ecopsychology, this paper will engage instructors and administrators in course development strategies and in helping students plan their own learning by using a systems approach to curriculum design.

SUGGESTED ACTIONS

Ecological Learning and the Liberal Arts

Premise

An ecological model of thinking can provide a model for a more intentional and dynamic liberal arts pedagogy.

Actions

Academic Administrators should recognize that biological design processes can follow a model that spirals from (1) discovering natural models to (2) abstracting design principles to (3) brainstorming potential applications, (4) emulating nature’s strategies and finally (5) evaluation. The process continually repeats itself as successive curricular iterations are discovered, employed, and assessed.

Faculty and administrators alike can embrace an ecological framework can underscore the resilient, decentralized, and distributed, and integrative pedagogy of a liberal arts curriculum, thereby empowering more intentional and organically developed student-centered learning experiences.

Digital Technologies and Ecological learning

Premise

Digital technologies can help institutions to develop more ecologically focused learning environments and curricula.

Actions

For Administrators: Technologies should help us redefine how we use learning spaces—both virtual and actual. Online tools should resonate with organic structure of information flow, and classes should be inherently embracing such flow of information and knowledge.

For Faculty and Administrators: Introduce technologies that enable real-time connection between student experience and classroom reflection and provide information and access that can help classes become self-organizing and less hierarchical. The ecosystem has become as much a metaphor for collaborative technologies as it presents a framework within which to contemplate its development; however, as much as ecology may be an apt metaphor for digital community – in its dynamic development and organic integration of ideas in (often serendipitous) boundary objects, there continues to be a tension between the ubiquity of software and the reality of experience, a tension which is ignored by many.

Faculty, administrators, and students can recognize that getting one’s hands dirty in the performance of literal, actual, meaningful work can be the scaffold for community, collaboration, and engagement that technology can potentially help facilitate.

Integrating Ecological Thinking

Premise

Ecological thinking can be integrated into both new and existing courses, units, and overall curriculum designs.

Actions

Academic Administrators and Department Chairs should champion a comprehensive revisioning of course offerings from the perspective of outcomes-based assessment to emphasize a systemic and integrative—rather than disciplinary and course-based—curriculum. They must similarly engage in meaningful revision of workload and workflow in order to achieve more robust support for the integrative student learning that is the core of liberal arts pedagogy.

Academic Administrators can integrate curricula of earth and biological science courses to foster a deeper understanding of the interrelationships of methods, products, projects, and initiatives across the different disciplines. Course can also be block scheduled in order to empower integrative learning communities.

Individual Faculty should use the flexibility within workload guidelines to explore further collaborative and cooperative teaching opportunities that empower students and faculty alike in integrative systems thinking. Truly organic development of curriculum necessitates a ground-up process that involves faculty and students in co-creation of integrative courses, coursework, and programs.

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