For me, pedagogy is part of an always unfinished project intent on developing a meaningful life for all students.
—On Critical Pedagogy, Henry Giroux
I’ll start this post with a review of the various ideas that we are engaging with at Plymouth State University as we continue our implementation of the Integrated Clusters Learning Model. The model asks instructors to use Cluster Pedagogy in their classes, a praxis that brings together three major ideas in the scholarship of teaching and learning: Interdisciplinarity and Integration, Project-based Learning, and Open Pedagogy. PSU’s General Education Habits of Mind represent the learning outcomes of the Gen Ed program. They are ways of looking at the world that we hope students will practice and develop during their time at PSU (although most of us will practice and continue to develop these Habits of Mind for our entire lives). The Habits of Mind are: Purposeful Communication, Problem-Solving, Integrated Perspective, and Self-Regulated Learning. You can see how we describe these Habits of Mind to our first year students here.
I recently had a conversation with a colleague who was musing about the fact that the connections among the three strands of Cluster Pedagogy were just coming into view for her. Soon after, I had a conversation with another colleague who wondered about the connections between Cluster Pedagogy and the Habits of Mind. I thought it would be cool to come up with an infographic that makes the connections visible but that isn’t my strong point. I drew a picture of the major connections that I see but it would be no one’s idea of a useful infographic (see the featured image on this post and I’m sure you’ll agree with me). So I thought I would explain (in words–more of a strength for me) what I see as the major connections.
So what are the connections among the three strands of Cluster Pedagogy? Let’s define the strands. (Please note that these will necessarily be simplified definitions and descriptions. Each strand represents a major area of study in the scholarship of teaching and learning and this post would be unbearably long if I tried to engage with all the complexities of each strand.) Interdisciplinarity is the idea that we can bring the methods, knowledge, insights, skills, etc. from a variety of disciplines together and Integration is about building bridges of various kinds: among disciplines, between the work of the classroom and the wider world, between personal experience and public issues. According to PBLWorks, “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.” Students then “demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience.” According to DeRosa and Jhangiani, “Open Pedagogy invites us to focus on how we can increase access to higher education and how we can increase access to knowledge–both its reception and its creation. This is, fundamentally, about the dream of a public learning commons, where learners are empowered to shape the world as they encounter it.” I think all three of these strands focus on bridging gaps that we see in traditional educational models, gaps between disciplines, gaps between inside the classroom and outside the classrooms, gaps between students as consumers of knowledge and students as producers of knowledge. Ultimately, all three strands are interested in how education can be made “meaningful” for students. Both Project-Based Learning and Open Pedagogy involve students doing authentic work that actually has some impact on the world outside the classroom. It rarely makes sense for authentic work to be approached from the perspective of a single discipline which means projects and other ways of contributing to the knowledge commons will be interdisciplinary and integrate the perspectives of multiple disciplines.
And how is Cluster Pedagogy related to the Habits of Mind? The thing that drew me to the Integrated Clusters initiative at PSU in the first place is the idea that we would design educational experiences to support the development of student agency, to empower students to take control of their educational journey and, ultimately, their lives. I was particularly excited by the idea that we would provide such experiences for ALL students, not just those with means or those who come to us already motivated to get the most from their time with us. (By the way, this equity of access to these educational experiences is a central concern of Open Pedagogy.) Because this is my bias, I have always considered Self-Regulated Learning to be the most important of the Habits of Mind. The question then becomes: How do we design learning environments which empower students? As I said above, Cluster Pedagogy (through its relationship to Open Pedagogy) is distinctly focused on empowering students. We empower students by asking them to engage in the development of a project that focuses on a meaningful problem or question, requires sustained inquiry, involves real world tasks, tools, methods, skills, etc., requires students to make decisions about how they will work and what they will create, engages the students in regular reflection about what they’re learning and the effectiveness of the project, provides them with feedback for revision of their work, and requires them to share their work beyond the classroom. These seven essential elements of project design have been articulated by PBLWorks and are succinctly stated as: 1. a challenging problem or question, 2. sustained inquiry, 3. authenticity, 4. student voice and choice, 5. reflection, 6. critique and revision, and, 7. public product. Through working on these projects in interdisciplinary teams and an invitation to contribute to the world, students will practice the four Habits of Mind. To collaborate on projects with students from various disciplines, to give and receive feedback on projects, and to present their work outside of the classroom, students must practice Purposeful Communication. To work on an authentic, challenging problem or question, students must engage in Problem-Solving of all sorts. To create projects that actually address the problems faced by real people, students must understand, respond to, and integrate the perspectives of those people as well as the perspectives of members of their team which is the definition of Integrated Perspective. And finally, to make decisions about what they want to create and how that work will go, students must practice Self-Regulated Learning.
Here’s a simpler explanation that follows the diagram that I created. Interdisciplinarity and Integration requires students to communicate purposefully, to engage in problem-solving, and to integrate various perspectives. Project-Based Learning requires students to communicate purposefully, to engage in problem-solving, to integrate various perspectives, and to take control of their own learning. Open Pedagogy encourages students to communicate purposefully, to integrate various perspectives, and to take control of their own learning. In other words, Cluster Pedagogy is a way of engaging with students that distinctly asks them to practice the Habits of Mind.
Everything we do in our classes should be focused on providing an educational environment that gives students the opportunity to practice the Habits of Mind. As I said, for me, the most important Habit of Mind is Self-Regulated Learning, especially because I think it’s the one that will be most valuable for students to create a meaningful life and because I think it’s the one we have spent less (or maybe no) time on in traditional educational settings. So as I design my section of TWP (as well as other classes that I will teach), I will constantly as myself the ways in which the activities I ask students to engage in further their development of the Habits of Mind, particularly Self-Regulated Learning. How can I decenter myself as a teacher and recenter the classroom on students as learners? How can I really focus on learning rather than on teaching? I think these last two questions are what I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about and will probably be the subject of a future post.
I’m curious about what other people think about the connections among these ideas and I would really love it if someone came up with an infographic that illustrates the connections.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.