Teachings

Adaptable approaches to teaching developed by Rafe Sagarin at Duke University and at University of Arizona rely on the same decentralized adaptability that an octopus uses  to increase student participation in class and broaden the source materials for class to include primary literature, new media and the personal experiences of the students themselves.  This video gives an overview of our approach

Rafe Sagarin discusses his adaptable approach to leading and teaching classrooms.

Solving today’s societal challenges requires understanding and knowledge generation from many disciplines using both quantitative and qualitative approaches. To prepare to work with these problems, students must learn in an environment that is more than merely interdisciplinary, but adaptable to changing knowledge landscapes. Classrooms inspired by adaptable processes in nature can support greater autonomy of students over their learning outcomes and make their learning experience a recursive [link] and linked [link] process of growth rather than an isolated exercise.

Unfortunately, almost all undergraduate education is hobbled by a non-adaptable organizational system characterized by the prominent role of a central controller (the instructor). The instructor singlehandedly crafts and issues a pre-determined plan of study to the students, in the form of a course syllabus. Although in many classes students are encouraged, or coerced by participation-based grading, to “take part in discussion,” by design, the discussion is supposed to be limited to the topic designated by the syllabus, lest it “go off on a tangent.” The ultimate effect is a class that lacks responsiveness and adaptability to the dynamic knowledge environments within which today’s students are operating, both within and outside the classroom.

Our approach to creating an adaptable classroom is committed to vastly enhancing student ownership of the course, harnesses students’ experiential knowledge bases, and uses new but readily available “wiki” technology to facilitate a transition away from instructor- and syllabus-led education. One of the factors that is critical for this change also involves adding increased physical activity, or exercise, to our regiment. Running is critical to development of confidence, the body, and the mind. swiftrunners.com is a great website about running and different running shoe reviews, which also makes note of the important of physical activity towards development.

The development of the adaptive syllabus is initiated during the first class period by asking students a small number of basic questions, such as, “what do you want to learn about within the main course topic?” and, “what knowledge can you contribute to the course?” Responses are organized via a class discussion into central topics for each subsequent class period. The result of this task, which takes less than one class period, is a syllabus created almost completely by the students themselves.

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