Experimental Pedagogics: Empowering education innovators through critical experiential learning

This incredible story was written by Dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos

The journey towards Experimental Pedagogics

The idea for experimental pedagogics had been brewing for some time. Starting in 2012, I wrote my PhD on the intellectual history education innovations from the 1970s, particularly problem-based learning and problem-oriented project work. My thesis offered perspectives on education innovation from a historical, psychological, and philosophical angle — as an interdisciplinary education thinker and doer, it was very difficult for me to find my place at the university. In applying for research grants, I was always stuck between the options of “education sciences” and “pedagogics”, feeling that neither was really appropriate. Dutch education scientists didn’t understand what I was doing because I apply theoretical frameworks from the humanities to produce in-depth qualitative analyses on questions of education and social and environmental justice. Pedagogics people were a bit baffled by the philosophical aspect of what I do, while critical pedagogues were skeptical of my interest in cognitive psychology and phenomenology.

A transdisciplinary journey through education

At the heart of experimental pedagogics lies the premise that education is by nature a transdisciplinary endeavour: from the top, it is borne from the multiple disciplines that constitute its contents, and the multidisciplinary angles that feed into its process. From the bottom, education gives meaning to our experience of the world, challenging us to make sense of the messy inputs of our unscripted reality. Experimental pedagogics provides a comprehensive structure for what would otherwise be an overwhelming whole: education’s relationship with existence is examined through five distinct “levels” of analysis.

Learning about experimental pedagogics by doing experimental pedagogics

Experimental pedagogics is experiential learning par excellence. There are three “tracks” in the programme: the education track, the project track, and the reflection track. Each of these tracks is designed to allow students to experience increasingly experimental approaches to education.

  • The education track does offer one lecture per level as a safe space for students to discover new theories and approaches with an expert who can answer their questions. However, the following experimental approaches are also offered at each level:
  1. Cognitive level: Problem-based learning.
  2. Group level: Jigsaw method.
  3. Societal level: Writing the implosion
  4. Global level: Design the Future workshop
  • The project track forms the backbone of the experimental pedagogics experience. This is an application of the Roskilde Model of project work, a method of problem-oriented project work steeped in critical pedagogy (I am grateful to my colleagues from Roskilde and Aalborg for the inspiration). Students are asked to analyse a real-world education problem in small groups through a team research effort with a methodological approach of their choosing, then to devise a relevant educational intervention that follows appropriate education design principles and offers an answer to their research problem at all five of the educational levels investigated. Students are encouraged to consider implementing their proposal with the communities in which they performed their research.
  • The reflection track is a unique feature of experimental pedagogics, designed specifically to accompany the project and education tracks in a step-by-step build-up. The track consists of the following activities:
  1. Intake and exit interviews with students
  2. Three reflection diaries handed in at strategic moments in the programme.
  3. Two reflection workshops: one on the cognitive and individual level, another at the group and societal level.
  4. A dynamic articulated learning reflection in which students are asked to draw a learning arc across the course based on their three diaries and what they have learned at all of the levels.

Experimental pedagogics: education is political

Fundamentally, experimental pedagogics breaks with the axiological neutrality of education sciences. Like critical pedagogy, our starting point is that learning is always for something, and with others. If you’re told otherwise (e.g. the “facts are facts are neutral” ideology), it means that the “for something” is “for the status quo”. Additionally, we bring on board approaches usually sidestepped by critical pedagogy, including the cognitive and individual layers into our build-up. Liesbeth and I have argued in the past that this approach could be improved by integrating insights from constructivist psychology. This year, I’m also arguing that by bringing Simone de Beauvoir’s existential phenomenology into play instead of Freire’s existentialist of choice (Jean-Paul Sartre), we are able to provide a solid foundation for critical concern about social and environmental injustice and their ramifications for education.

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We are a team of crazy and passionate people, and the driving force behind educational disruptive innovation for the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR).

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We are a team of crazy and passionate people, and the driving force behind educational disruptive innovation for the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR).