Case Studies

Lindsay

Intrapersonal Capability, Growth Orientation

Treat the capability for learning as a learnable skill. Treat challenges in the learning process as opportunities to grow as a learner.

Initial
Learners may view the ability to learn as fixed, and may view setbacks and obstacles as indications of their limitations.
Emerging
Learners have begun to take risks and experience successes that challenge their views about learning.
Developing
Learners have begun to explore and reflect upon their experiences and views about learning.
Proficient
Learners reflect upon learning as a learnable skill. They view challenges as opportunities to grow their ability to learn.

The activities undertaken in IDEA are designed to encourage this development through a focus on the process of learning rather than the outcome.

Lindsay demonstrated a transition from Initial capability to Emerging capability.

Initial Context

Lindsay is in her third year of post-secondary studies and is becoming discouraged. She works hard on assignments for her courses but is not performing as well as she or her instructors would like. Analytical, creative, and integrative thinking are often absent from her writing. Her classroom participation is muted. In her assignments she faithfully reproduces facts and concepts from texts and lectures — as she has been instructed to do — but her capacity to use source material as the fuel for own intellectual development is underdeveloped. She is a committed but uninspired learner.

Lindsay’s perspective of her academic capacities has been shaped by many years of schooling in which she has learned to underperform and disengage. Her initial difficulties in primary school led to a series of accumulating consequences throughout her academic career, and for many years she has thought of herself as a person who does not like school and is not smart. She approaches her post-secondary experiences with the view (shared by many) that university is a necessary unpleasantness.

With such a mindset, it is not surprising that Lindsay is disengaged and unfulfilled at university. In an effort to remedy this situation, she enrolls in the Amazon field school.

Experiential Learning Activities

During the first week of the trip, while traveling upriver in a canoe with the group, Lindsay participates in a conversation about different ways of knowing. By now she has encountered multiple cultures and lifestyles and has observed many ways in which knowledge is specific to cultural and natural domains. She has seen a man identify the location of monkeys in the trees by the sounds of the surrounding jungle. She has learned how indigenous tribes transform toxic plants into delicious meals. She has learned to identify the cry of the Madre De La Luna owl as it glides above the river in the dark. Lindsay has started to wonder about what she knows, and how she knows it.

As the conversation evolves, Lindsay hears many perspectives about how we learn, what learning is, and what it means to be smart. Many of the local people she has met on this trip have no formal education of any kind, yet they seem smart in ways she has not encountered before. They are street smart, jungle smart, people smart. And surely, she thinks, these skills must be learned. They cannot be fixed and immutable traits.

Lindsay’s participation in the conversation is tentative at first. She does not normally engage in such conversations and she is worried about looking stupid. But she has been deeply impressed by the many kinds of knowledge she has seen over the past few days, and she begins to speak passionately about this new world of her understanding.

As the canoe makes its way through the gathering dark, the conversation turns to research about mindsets, learning capacities, brain plasticity, multiple intelligences, and the broad range of inquiry into the learning capacities of the human animal. Lindsay listens attentively, speaks of her own experiences with teaching and learning, and engages fully in the spirited debate. She forgets about classrooms and assignments and marks. The rain comes, the conversation flows (one of many similar experiences on the trip).

Course Outputs

When Lindsay returns to Canada she completes a research essay on the subject of indigenous Colombian approaches to child and adolescent education. She collects and integrates research from several disciplines and crafts a persuasive argument for a multiplicity of approaches to the education of young people. Under the guidance of the instructors, Lindsay’s research includes sources from North American and South American scholars both in English and Spanish.

Lindsay also contributes to a series of collaborative compositions developed by the group and published online as open educational resources. Her particular contributions include reflections on readings, descriptions of various locations and points of interest, and suggestions for other travelers undertaking similar journeys.

Lindsay also completes a comprehensive self-assessment in which she reflects upon her experiences during the journey and contemplates the implications of the trip on her future studies and professional plans. Her self-reflection intentionally bridges academic research with the process of personal discovery.

Assessment

Lindsay clearly demonstrated in her project report that she had developed capability at Rubric Emerging. She shared much of her growth experience in conversations with the instructors, fellow students and other course team members. This direct observation provided validation for her self-reports on the development of capability within the rubric during the course.

Transformational Impacts

The italicized text in the narrative above illustrates some of the transformational growth points in Lindsay’s learning experience. Lindsay also reported that this was the first time she had completed a university course project for reasons that go far beyond academic necessity. And, in doing so, she offered herself a new imprint about her own learning. For the first time, she felt smart.


Bill

Intrapersonal Capability, Growth Orientation

Treat the capability for learning as a learnable skill. Treat challenges in the learning process as opportunities to grow as a learner.

Initial
Learners may view the ability to learn as fixed, and may view setbacks and obstacles as indications of their limitations.
Emerging
Learners have begun to take risks and experience successes that challenge their views about learning.
Developing
Learners have begun to explore and reflect upon their experiences and views about learning.
Proficient
Learners reflect upon learning as a learnable skill. They view challenges as opportunities to grow their ability to learn.

The activities undertaken in IDEA are designed to encourage this development through a focus on the process of learning rather than the outcome.

Bill demonstrated a transition from Developing capability to Proficient capability.

Initial Context

Bill has completed a degree in Kinesiology and is now working on a second degree in Journalism. He has been seeking a way to integrate his complementary interests in sciences and arts, and he has enrolled in the Amazon Field School as a means to explore various interdisciplinary themes that are of deep interest to him: human development, cultural knowledge, and multicultural notions of what it means to lead a purposeful life. Bill intends to apply this new learning to his own search for purpose and direction.

Bill already thinks of himself as a lifelong learner. He performs well in academic contexts and has received much positive feedback from his instructors and peers. But he is not sure if his academic pursuits are a sufficient measure of whether his life is full and purposeful. He has the sense that these pursuits should lead to greater fulfillment, yet so far they have not. He just keeps getting better at school, so he keeps going back. But he is not sure that he is making the best choices, and he is not sure what else to do.

Experiential Learning Activities

During the Amazon trip Bill meets many people who are working in non-governmental organizations. Some are advocates for indigenous groups, some are working on sustainability and challenges to the environment, and a few are involved in political reform. Their academic backgrounds are diverse. Some have no formal education at all. But in every case, Bill encounters people who have found ways to blend academic research with social action and entrepreneurship. They have taken elements of these domains and have blended them together into initiatives that are complex, messy, and immensely purposeful.

As he spends time in various communities, Bill encounters multiple examples of how people have found ways to engage with the pressing issues of their cultures and environments. He starts to wonder about all he has learned in the academic sphere, and he begins to think that his academic skills might be transferable to these larger contexts.

Bill meets a man from the Kogi indigenous ethnic group, a small civilization living in isolation in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia. The Kogi, also known as the Elder Brothers, have emerged from their isolation on two occasions: first in 1990, to voice their concern about environmental issues; and again, in 2013, to share their alarm about increasing environmental devastation. Their most recent message is one of great urgency.

Bill reflects upon the Kogi and the complexity of their situation, which is of course shared by all of humanity. He recognizes that environmental issues involve complex interactions between cultures, governments, and commercial enterprises. He thinks about the role that academia plays in this complexity, and he starts to wonder about ways in which he might expand his own capacities to be of service.

Course Outputs

Bill completes a project focusing on indigenous environmental practices and their application to a modern world alienated from them. He proposes a methodology by which indigenous approaches might be implemented, tested, and validated on a small scale in Canada and Colombia, with results from each region integrated and analyzed to form a snapshot of alternatives to industrial agriculture and modern environmental stewardship. He illustrates his arguments with historical examplars in both places, using the First Nations clam gardens of British Columbia and the chakra farms of Colombia.

Bill also contributes to a series of collaborative compositions developed by the group and published online as open educational resources. His particular contributions include reflections on readings, descriptions of various non-governmental initiatives underway in Colombia, and suggestions for how people in Canada might get involved.

Bill also completes a comprehensive self-assessment in which he reflects upon his experiences during the journey and contemplates the implications of the trip on his future plans to build a career in the domain of social action.

Assessment

Bill clearly demonstrated in his project that he had developed capability at Rubric Proficient. He reflected upon the scope and transferability of his learning from one context to another, and he took enthusiastic ownership of his opportunities to adapt his learning into fresh environments. These insights provided validation and direction for Bill’s future development within the rubric during and beyond the course.

Transformational Impacts

The italicized text in the narrative above illustrates some of the transformational growth points in Bill’s learning experience. Upon returning to Canada, Bill recognizes that the skills he has learned as a successful student are transferable to many other domains and indeed are much in demand within those domains. All of the non-governmental organizations he has encountered would benefit from his knowledge of academic cultures and the methods by which academic research is utilized in the public sphere. And, in turn, his own knowledge and skills would be enhanced by exposure to the many ways people are using cultural knowledge to promote change.

Bill now has a sense of purpose beyond the university, and his experience in the Amazon points the way. Bill continues to build relationships with those he has met in Colombia. He becomes fluent in Spanish. He successfully applies for funding to travel again to Colombia, where he plans to work more closely with the Kogi.


Carl

Interpersonal Capability, Relationship Attribute

Engage in collaborative, supportive relationships that enhance one’s own and others’ learning.

Initial
Learners may only minimally engage with their classmates and instructor except when required to do so, and may avoid conflict or engage in it unproductively.
Emerging
Learners engage more willingly with others.
Developing
Learners engage willingly with others, give and receive support, and successfully negotiate conflict.
Proficient
Learners actively seek out and engage in collaborative relationships and are skilled mentors to their peers.

The activities undertaken in IDEA are designed to encourage this interpersonal development by modeling healthy interactions and through a dialogical approach that keeps interaction among learners central to the learning process.

Carl demonstrated a transition from Initial capability to Emerging capability.

Initial Context

Carl has been attending university for three years. In every course he sits at the back of the classroom and engages minimally. He particularly dislikes group projects and any activity involving personal interaction. During a typical day he attends classes, goes to work, then goes home. He sees himself as a loner, and he likes it that way.

But he is also immensely interested in the Amazon. He is fascinated by the jungle environment and has dreamed, since he was a boy, of traveling there. He enrolls in the Amazon Field School and hopes that he will not be required to work with others. But as preparations commence, and Carl meets the instructors and the other participants, it becomes clear that the expected level of interaction for the trip is very high. He considers withdrawing, but after a conversation with one of the instructors, he persists. After all, he thinks, why waste this opportunity just because dealing with people is a chore?

Experiential Learning Activities

As the trip unfolds, Carl discovers that living cheek to jowl with 20 people for almost three weeks is going to be difficult. Small frictional situations arise every day for him, and be becomes somewhat emotionally frayed as the days pass. But he meets two people who he feels comfortable with, and they slowly become casual friends.

During the second week of the trip, the entire group embarks on a full-day hike through one of the wildest parts of the jungle. There are myriad dangers, and the success of the hike depends upon mutual support and camaraderie. Mid-morning, as the heat of the day rises through the damp forest floor and the canopy above sways with the shrieks of innumerable creatures, Carl and another group member are asked to bring up the rear. As luck would have it, the other member, David, is someone Carl does not like. The feeling seems mutual, as they have tended to avoid one another during the trip so far. But now they are stuck together, perhaps for several hours, in an extreme environment and with an important task. Carl reflects on the fact that in almost all predatory animal attacks on humans in the jungle, the victims are those at the back of a larger traveling group.

As often happens in such situations, Carl and David have an honest discussion about their differences. The remoteness of their situation and its juxtaposition from daily life combine to offer the impression of a sealed and safe environment in which to air their grievances. And they do. At one point, one of the instructors joins them for a stretch and offers the curious truth that those we dislike are often most like us. This provokes much laughter and some uncomfortable rumination.

Upon completion of their long journey, the exhausted hikers are welcomed by members of an indigenous group that has chosen to maintain their ancient lifestyle. They live far off in the jungle, practicing their ancestral ways. Carl and David remain together as they wander the indigenous village. Other group members notice, but they don’t say much.

Carl thinks about this experience a great deal in the days following. He wonders about his own history and character, and he writes extensively about these things in his self-reflection. He makes the crucial insight that engagement with others is not only essential but is, perhaps, the only path toward authentic human development. As a result of this insight, Carl begins to focus more on questions about his future and the role that others might play in it.

Course Outputs

Carl completes a multimedia creative project involving painted images, photographs, and creative nonfiction narratives. He utilizes the indigenous brush technique taught to him by artists in Colombia and finds equivalent materials from the rainforest of British Columbia to make his brushes. His photography includes low-light exposure techniques taught to him in the Amazon by Diego Samper, a renowned photographer and guide on the trip. With mentorship from the course instructors, Carl composes creative nonfiction narratives, in the style of Borges, to accompany the paintings and photographs. He concludes the multimedia project with a contextual essay in which he describes his creative process.

Carl also contributes to a series of collaborative compositions developed by the group and published online as open educational resources. His particular contributions include reflections on indigenous art-making and travel photography, descriptions of the challenges and opportunities of traveling with others, and suggestions for how other travelers might handle the complexities of human interaction.

Carl also completes a comprehensive self-assessment in which he reflects upon his experiences during the journey and contemplates the implications of the trip on his future development both personally and professionally.

Assessment

Carl clearly demonstrated learning consistent with Rubric Emerging. His projects, compositions, and self-assessment all explore and confirm his willingness to engage more purposefully with others.

Transformational Impacts

The italicized text in the narrative above illustrates some of the transformational growth points in Carl’s learning experiences.


Laurie

Interpersonal Capability, Relationship Attribute

Engage in collaborative, supportive relationships that enhance one’s own and others’ learning.

Initial
Learners may only minimally engage with their classmates and instructor except when required to do so, and may avoid conflict or engage in it unproductively.
Emerging
Learners engage more willingly with others.
Developing
Learners engage willingly with others, give and receive support, and successfully negotiate conflict.
Proficient
Learners actively seek out and engage in collaborative relationships in and out of the classroom and are skilled mentors to their peers.

The activities undertaken in IDEA are designed to encourage this interpersonal development by modeling healthy interactions and through a dialogical approach that keeps interaction among learners central to the learning process.

Laurie demonstrated a transition from Developing capability to Proficient capability.

Initial Context

Laurie is good with people. She is considerate and attentive to others, and she shines in situations of teamwork and collaboration. She views herself as a helper, particularly in classroom situations. But she has not yet achieved the confidence to extend her capacities into other settings, such as at her workplace or within other contexts in the community.

Laurie enrolls in the Amazon trip as her capstone university experience. She recognizes that she will not complete this kind of trip on her own, and she wants to do something radically unfamiliar. She hopes that the trip will deepen her skills of working with others and will, by extension, prepare her for her chosen career in international education.

Experiential Learning Activities

By the fourth day of the trip, a few participants are struggling. They are worried about mosquito bites, or are suffering the lingering effects of jet lag, or are missing creature comforts (such as cell phone and Internet access). Laurie initiates several conversations and offers support in various ways. Her own equanimity is deepened by these gestures, as is often the case with service-minded people: the provision of service and nurturing toward others is, in turn, nurturing to the giver.

Over the course of several days in which uncomfortable situations are the norm — a long wilderness hike, a day of rainy canoe travel, a sudden swarm of evening mosquitos — Laurie becomes increasingly aware of the many ways that others are starting to look to her as a role model. She is unfazed by the discomforts of the trip yet acutely sensitive to the discomforts and needs of others. She offers support, wry humour, and whatever else she can muster to improve the experience for everyone.

She has not previously thought of herself as a mentor — after all, she is only 22 years old — but people on the trip start to refer to her in this way. At first she is uncomfortable with this designation, but over time she recognizes it as an endorsement, a recognition that her talents are well placed here. These kinds of experiences never presented themselves in the classroom. But out here, in the remote wilderness, a new level of skill has blossomed within her. She is calm, unfettered, at ease — and yet deeply engaged with this experience and with the others around her.

Course Outputs

After returning to Canada, Laurie writes a formal proposal to develop a program of international education. She works with the field school instructors to research funding opportunities, find community partners, and meet local exemplars with whom she can learn. As the proposal evolves, Laurie begins to forge connections and to build a network for her professional path. When the proposal is complete, the instructors assist Laurie in making a pitch to an international education organization. Laurie secures employment and a pathway to begin to implement the vision of her program.

Laurie also contributes to a series of collaborative compositions developed by the group and published online as open educational resources. Her particular contributions include reflections on the challenges and opportunities of mentorship within the context of international travel, and a list of readings and resources focused on international education.

Laurie also completes a comprehensive self-assessment in which she reflects upon her experiences during the journey and contemplates the implications of the trip on her future plans to build a career focused on mentorship. In preparation for documenting her self-assessment, Laurie undertakes a five-day wilderness retreat in Garibaldi Park to refine and focus her reflections. During the retreat she successfully climbs an alpine route that she had previously avoided due to lack of confidence. This successful ascent becomes a milestone moment for Laurie.

Assessment

Laurie clearly demonstrated capability at Rubric Proficient. The experiences documented in her projects demonstrate her active engagement in collaborative relationships within and beyond the classroom. She consistently provided skilled mentorship to her peers and integrated this work with her own development both personally and professionally.

Transformational Impacts

The italicized text in the narrative above illustrates some of the transformational growth points in Laurie’s learning experiences. Back home in Canada, she reflects upon her growing desire to continue the work of mentorship, to find ways of deepening her skill even more, to build a career in which service is its own reciprocity. She writes about this in her self-reflection and implements her plan through the development of a proposal focused on programming for international education.