Friday, June 29, 2012

Experiential Peace Curriculum in Morocco

I recently had the pleasure of leading a “global hybrid” course to Morocco.  The curriculum was experiential, in that we traveled in country (Ifrane, Fes and Rabat) to attend classes on conflict and development in Morocco, cross cultural workshops and a series of meetings at schools, youth development organizations, human rights advocacy organizations and women’s democratic groups.  Of course, we also made some time for tours of the Old Medina in Fes (which is NOT to be missed), as well as the shore and the historic section of Rabat, to include some ancient Phoenician ruins, historic Mosques and the Palace. 

Why do such experiential courses matter?   They move students out of the classroom and into communities, which is where peace building and conflict resolution happen.  They offer students opportunities to be immersed, even if only for a few weeks, in another culture and to learn first hand from practitioners in the field.  This sort of experiential curriculum facilitates students making profound connections between the peace building models and theories they’ve encountered in books and the realities of the field.  But perhaps more importantly, the intensity and unique nature of the experience also encourages reflection on one’s self, both as a person and as a professional.  This sort of transformative learning, I would argue, cannot happen in a classroom.  Daniel Schön, in his The Reflective Practitioner, began this conversation decades ago but universities can and must do much more to respond with innovation to provide our students experiential courses which challenge them to build community, create new knowledge which they truly own, and form relationships which can facilitate their conflict resolution careers. 

This sort of innovative, experiential curriculum is especially important for student peace builders.  Lederach has used the metaphor of “web building” for community peace makers.  Immersed in the field alongside practitioners, students can witness the web being built.    Kolb’s classic Learning Cycle is a key theoretical underpinning here as well.  

Especially at the graduate level, we expect students to be able to do more than simply recite or describe content.   We expect them to be able to apply, evaluate, synthesize and create.  Our global hybrid courses are a key part of empowering students to meet this challenge.  

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