Transform to learn: the need to combine theory and practice in the curricula

On Monday 16th September, I attended the “Learn to Transform: The Pedagogic Revolution” event at the University of Sussex (UoS). As a recent graduate in Anthropology and International development from UoS and Students’ Union community organiser volunteer, I was keen to find out about this revolutionary approach and what it means for students’ academic performance. The event invited academics and professional services colleagues from across the University to start a pedagogical revolution through direct engagement in a range of activities and workshop sessions, such as the co-creation of inclusive curricula and outdoor learning ideas, in addition to, inspirational talks and technology use throughout the day.

I attended the workshop session “The Great outdoors: embracing our green campus for teaching and learning”, delivered by Wendy Garnham, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Paolo Oprandi, Senior Learning Technologist (Technology Enhanced Learning). The following extract is taken from the event details:

“This session aims to enthuse practitioners with ideas for outside learning opportunities, illustrate the value of the walking tutorial, and provide an opportunity to discuss this teaching method. The session will begin with a brief introduction to how outdoor space is being/can be utilised for teaching and learning. We will then try it for ourselves using an example from our foundation year programme- the “walking tutorial”. On our return, we will conclude with a discussion of the limitations and considerations required for this sort of active learning experience” (Garnham 2019).

Itinerary schedule

The session was delivered as planned and unfolded smoothly. From the start, attendees were briefly introduced to outdoor learning, the concept of a walking seminar and twalk activity.  There was a set of questions to reflect collectively during our woodland walk in Stanmer Park and use twitter as an online platform to post reflections and pictures. Surprisingly, one of the green spots we visited was The Dew Pond near The Attenborough Centre, which I did not know existed and as a group, we talked about ways to use the outdoor environment to promote learning.

I have gone through mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and mood imbalance during my three years at University due to academic pressures and health issues. I have to admit that I have always been drawn by nature; however, my conceptualisation and experience of nature became even more meaningful and valuable, as a person and scholar, after being fully immersed in this academic context. To be and study outdoors helped immensely my overall academic performance and wellbeing. For instance, I studied by myself and others in the South Downs, had lunch breaks near ponds and contemplated and photographed flora and fauna around campus, among others. It was through continuous practice, self-discovery and direct engagement with the natural environment and others when I then started noticing real improvements both in my mental and physical health.

Picture was taken at the pond in Art A

The Dew Pond (UoS campus)

I believe that the importance of active learning should be emphasised since year one and to be included in the curriculum for students and staff members. This could be a way of dismantling power relations between professors and students in an informal, friendly and professional manner to exchange life and academic experiences.  It is also important to think about the way theories and practices are framed and to take into consideration students’ lived experiences, academic expectations and contributions on approaches that could work for them.

I enjoyed the session and deeply appreciate the work of both facilitators, W. Garnham and P. Oprandi, to shed light on this through current projects in place such as The Active Learning Network. To combine the theory, academic evidence and to gain practical experience and knowledge outdoors – in the community, campus, workplace … is the way to go.

Yuvinka Ribera Hurtado
Graduate Student in Anthropology and International Development
University of Sussex

1 thought on “Transform to learn: the need to combine theory and practice in the curricula

  1. Pingback: The walking tutorial - David Andrew: Psychology, Coaching, Higher Education

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