Learning by doing is a total education tool

I attended public school in Putnam County, New York, where I participated in a BOCES program called Walkabout. The mission of this alternative program was to advocate for experiential education — or, learning by doing. As part of the program, students practiced self-governance, internship and community service.

For my community service project, I taught and made art with autistic youth. Not only did this give me the opportunity to spend time with folks that I normally wouldn’t get to interact with, but I was able to work on my own arts practice, communication skills and take time for personal reflection. This was a transformative period.

Advocates of experiential learning promote a holistic approach of enhancing academics with personal and social skill development.

In graduate school, I read Paulo Freire’s book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”  Freire is one of several philosophers who believed education was a process of empowerment and students weren’t just empty containers waiting to be stuffed with knowledge.

Basically, he was saying that students often learn better by being involved and seeing a direct effect from that learning experience. This book not only helped me better understand my education at Walkabout, but I also incorporated these ideas into my instruction.

While teaching, I experimented with experiential learning and more specifically, service learning. Service learning is thought of as a form of experiential learning but it applies equal focus to both learning and service goals.

Here, at FM, my communications classes incorporate hands-on or experiential learning. My students are constantly creating; they write articles and produce video and audio pieces. Although powerful, I found that this type of learning is different from service learning.

For example, each year the Fulton County YMCA holds a telethon to raise money in order to provide free and reduced rate access for underprivileged youth and families. For the past two years, my advanced television class has been producing videos for the YMCA to use in the telethon. My students go to the YMCA and videotape interviews and footage. They edit together video packages that Time Warner Cable then uses as breaks from the live telethon.

This year the students not only made the video packages to air during the telethon, but they worked with Time Warner Cable during the event to operate cameras, graphics, audio, etc.

The students applied what they learned in the classroom about video and television production to a real life situation. They were also exposed to the professional team working with Time Warner Cable. The YMCA received videos produced for free and FM had representation and promotion on the air during the telethon. Everyone got something out of it.

Steve Serge, the CEO of the Fulton County YMCA agreed.

“I think this year’s event was probably the best ever,” he said. “The videos were great, and the students helping out the day of the event added a lot, too.”

The project with the Fulton County YMCA showed that service learning projects can be a successful educational tool. My students developed their skills as storytellers, technicians, and media makers while engaging with and helping a non-profit in the community. They even built a relationship with the Time Warner Cable team.

Experiential learning was introduced in my early education and now, as a teacher, it is important for me to introduce it to my students.

Elizabeth Press is media communications instructor at FM.


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