Proxies and ‘as if’ to establish ‘real-life context’

Auracalia have been my penultimate proxies. Observing these fossil trees can have you time-travel to prehistoric times and spaces.

An aspect from my undergraduate studies meandered into my awareness recently: the idea that educational institutions (are supposed to) provide a safe space for learners to try out for ‘real life’ situations. An idea I try to convey particularly to marginalised learners who carry complex packages of anxiety and stress. I also realised that I utilise proxies such as the Balloon Academy or the Cups naturally throughout my teaching, encouraging ‘as if’ activities. Traditionally we associate ‘as if’ activities with underaged learners. Yes, the adult brain works differently and some strategies won’t apply. However, I found that adult learners enjoy and engage as much in ‘as if’ activities as my kindergarteners did. I think Lego Serious Play is probably the most successful application of using proxies and ‘as if’ activities.

The feedback from my students indicates that the proxies indeed help them to transfer the specific learning experiences into other areas of their studies and professional development. My aim is to make the students understand the principles so they can get out and apply these to whatever a situation requires. So I am about to embark on a small research project trying to find a way of understanding how these teaching methods impact on negotiation of learner identities.

It is the bane of our existence as pedagogues trying to provide evidence of our impact. Yes, I could say: the report from the external examiners stated that since I had the students, grade average went up and the academic work was much stronger. However, there were many other variables that could have impacted this development and one cohort does not provide enough evidence of impact. Therefore, I am running a pilot beginning next semester—watch this space. I will begin to report as soon as ethics approval is obtained and my students (hopefully!) agree to participate.

Addendum 2021 after a long period of adverse workplace experience I managed to run the project and eventually with support of amazing reviewers get it published:
Sheridan, N. (2020) “A two-step model for creative teaching in higher education”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. Plymouth, UK, (18). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi18.574

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