JTS, HUC-JIR and the Jim Joseph Foundation to create better training for Jewish educators, independent of their denominations - you can read more about it here in the Fundermentalist at JTA.) The ThinkTank pulled participants from different streams of Jewish affiliation and observance for a candid, respectful series of conversations, under the leadership of the Center for the Jewish Future (and CJF director Rabbi Kenneth Brander), and expertly moderated by facilitator Marc N. Kramer.(This is part of a grant between YU,
The chance to participate in the exploratory stage for this academic program, to witness the emergence of and ask questions about a nascent field was a particularly interesting opportunity for me that raised questions for all of us.
Experiential education sounds simple to define, but is actually far more nuanced and complicated than it might originally seem. If we agree that experiential education is more effective education, why shouldn't all education contain elements of the experiential? Is experiential necessarily interactive and innovative? What does interactive mean? How do you make specific the nonspecific of "I know experiential education when I feel it"? Who decides on what constitutes innovation, and how it differs from what constitutes informal or experiential education? Are meaningful experiences about teaching methodology, teacher personality, or about the environment? Can you formalize training for a field with such limitless possibility and definition?
There were also logistical questions: How do you integrate innovation or experiential education into a pre-existing, traditional educational structure? How do you encourage longtime, experienced teachers to open their minds to new methodologies that may sharply conflict with their teaching styles and experiences? And how do you translate the potential for learning into meaningful or inspiring, measurable educational outcomes?
As we considered these questions, we talked tachlis about "defining the core curriculum," broken down into skills, tools, knowledge, traits and experiences; and visualizing all of these things in categories, buckets, paints and brushes, tires and boxes, tools, computers and BlackBerrys. We wrote a press release of the future, noting in a retrospective style the highlights of this program and what it had been able to accomplish in the five years since we founded it - this is one of my favorite exercises, using writing skills and projecting into a future to imagine outcomes and perhaps thereby track back to the core of the task. And we engaged in "getting-to-know" you conversations which helped us work together in teams, and which were also, in their own ways, instructive in the mode of the experiential.
I know some of you out there are educators, informal or formal, experiential or innovative and/or traditional. What's your understanding of the definition of experiential education? Must it be innovative? Is it the approach, or the teacher, or the environment that defines either the experiential, the innovative, or both?
Looking forward to your feedback.