Blog – Integrative Education

Integrative Education

Beki Aldam, Crossfields Learning

What does ‘integrative education’ mean? 

The definition of ‘integrative’ is, “combining two or more things to form an effective unit or system.”  

What happens when we apply that to education and learning? It becomes a multi-faceted term that encompasses many elements of the learning process, the students and the teachers.  

The best-known version of integrative education (IE) is where the student learns in a way that combines or crosses over the boundaries between traditionally-divided subject areas. Sometimes called transdisciplinary, cross-curricular, or inter-curricular learning, students partake in learning that requires a range and combination of skills, and may include several subject areas. For example, a project making musical instruments that might combine musical, mathematic, physics, and handwork skills. 

However, it isn’t only the idea that day-to-day living is not neatly divided into subject silos, and that by fragmenting the student’s learning experience into artificial categories, the student is working in a way that isn’t reflecting the reality of the world around them.  

Education that is truly integrative also encourages an integration of intellectual, emotional, physical and social skills within the individual. It integrates the learner with the world in which we live; the societies that are fluctuating around them; and the planet that so desperately needs more understanding and support from humanity.  

Why does Crossfields Institute embrace IE? 

For Crossfields Institute, there are three ways that education can be described as ‘integrative’. For us, integrative education: 

  1. Engages the whole person – both teacher and student. They use and develop their mental, physical and emotional skills.

  2. Connects the learner and their learning to their daily life. Their own experiences become valuable in their learning; their learning is useful in their own lives, within their particular context. The student’s educational experience remains relevant for them, and continues to do so as they leave the educational setting and move out into the world. 

  3. Connects or combines both different subjects and the skills those subjects seek to develop. 

Education that is integrative will – we believe – be more engaging, more enlightening, more meaningful. Students will have the chance to love what they learn and apply it wherever it is most needed in their lives. 

The good and the great 

So, what advantages can this way of learning produce for the learner? 

Arguably, integrative education: 

  • Better prepares students for a swiftly-changing world, one that isn’t divided into subjects. 

  • Allows students to come up with better ideas and solutions, when looking at a project or problem as a whole, rather than by dividing their thinking. 

  • Encourages students to apply their skillsets in a fluid and dynamic way, rather than trying to approach something with a fixed mindset. 

More broadly, we can see that humanity is facing some serious challenges, with increasing numbers of crises threatening us at every level. Things have to change, and education is a crucial part of that. Our education systems are not currently enabling people to function happily, healthily or sustainably in the world. 

The challenges and reservations 

Although there are clear problems with education, it’s still an unnerving idea to many that everything about the current system needs to be overhauled in favour of something different, a move into the unknown. However, integrative education isn’t a new concept. Pedagogical experts have mooted, examined and proposed IE ideas for over a century (Kilpatrick’s The Project Method was published in 1918!) 

Yet, in many of the world’s mainstream education systems, IE has not been implemented in any meaningful way. There are reasons for this: 

  • Time: On a practical level, teachers often don’t have time to collaborate in a way that would make their students’ experience truly integrative. There are many gestures and nods towards IE (numeracy in your English lessons anyone?) but these do not make the educational experience truly integrative, and therefore don’t bring along its benefits. 

  • Organisation: There has to be some way to organise the educational experience. And there are advantages to structuring the students’ day so they learn a certain set of skills, and are able to focus on one thing at a time. Also, even if they did work on a multi-disciplinary project, they’d need to break that down into manageable chunks. Some argue that subject-silos are an effective way to do this. 

  • Change: Embracing IE fully requires big changes to be made. Large-scale reforms are difficult and often unpopular at first, making it an unappealing job both for educators and the politicians who may direct or enable such reforms at a national level. 

However, these challenges can be met and mitigated by the right IE system. One that allows teachers to collaborate; one that recognises the importance of specialist knowledge, but doesn’t restrict teachers and learners within subject silos; one that is organised and purposeful; one that works with education settings to support and implement the changes in a manageable way.  

Where to begin 

At Crossfields, our IE suite aims to allow all students to achieve their best and stay engaged. It’s also more inclusive than the current exam-based system, because it uses a fairer, wider range of assessment such as portfolios, presentation and performance. The courses run at both Level 2 and Level 3. Schools and organisations who adopt the IE qualifications are given support and teachers are offered training, to ensure they feel comfortable with and capable of delivering the materials.  

Find out more about the IE suite 

Restorative work instead of sanctions and punishment

It was good to read a report in The Guardian on the use of a “restore” process in a school in Gloucester to break the cycle of sanctions and exclusions. As part of the research and development undertaken for an Erasmus+ funded project, staff from Crossfields Institute have taken part in a training session led by teachers from Finland, who use Restorative Mediation widely in their schools. It had a significant impact on the group of 50 teachers gathered from four countries, and we could see the value of the process for both student and staff conflict or difficulty.

Next time you see a learning styles questionnaire, burn it?

Next time you see a learning styles questionnaire, burn it – began a typically forthright article in The Guardian back in July 2006 by Professor Frank Coffield. He had published results of a large research project into the use of learning styles questionnaires two years previously, but the UK Department of Education was firmly wedded to the use of learning styles, and his results were not publicised by the Learning and Skills Development Agency which had commissioned the research. Nearly 11 years later The Guardian has published a plea from scientists, educationalists and psychologists to “ditch the neuromyth” of learning styles.

At Crossfields Institute we are developing a qualification for 16 and 18 year olds focusing on developing a range of creative thinking skills. The focus of this is on building capacity and developing skills, whatever the style and preferences of the students.

Visual Learning

From Crossfield Institutes’ Isis Brook:

As those at Crossfields who go to the research forum will know I am very interested in the use of creating visual diagrams for understanding concepts so was interested to hear this short podcast on the Teaching Strides website – this is a Mount Royal University website at that has recently been started up to post podcasts from educators. Worth checking out and if you register they send you an alert when new material goes up.

https://blogs.mtroyal.ca/teachingstrides/2016/10/07/episode-2-visual-thinking/

glenn_ruhl_featured

The latest is from Professor Glenn Ruhl, Professor in, and former Chair of, the Information Design program in the Faculty of Communication Studies at Mount Royal University. He is a member of the International Institute for Information Design.

He makes some useful points and it is interesting to follow the links of what are thought to be good examples of infographics. I was pleased to see one that I had previously selected from the web to use as an example for our Communications module on the Researching Agroecology course amongst them.

https://www.designyourway.net/blog/inspiration/a-collection-of-infographics-that-are-actually-well-designed/

But scroll down and see what you make of the one called ‘Underskin: the human subway map’ where the various systems, such as lymphatic system, are represented in tube map format. That seems to me an example of misleading information where the design shapes understanding via a striking but misconceived picture of what these complex bodily systems are actually like. It also renders the human body as quasi mechanical which seems a very damaging and outdated idea.

Isis

Use of Computers Detrimental to Learning

Isis Brook, Head of Faculty of Environment and Transdisciplinary Studies:

“An article by Manfred Spitzer in the latest issue of New Scientist draws together work from numerous studies that show computers have had either no effect or a detrimental effect on children’s learning.  The latest report is from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and states that educational systems investing most in IT saw “no appreciable improvement” in exam results.  Earlier studies have also shown how detrimental it is on learning for children to have a computer in their bedroom.  There also seems to be increasing evidence that things like taking notes by hand in a lecture is more helpful for learning than typing them into a laptop.  Spitzer links these findings to evidence from neuroscience which has shown that “the deeper content is processed mentally, the better the learning .. and IT use seems to result in shallower processing”.

Back to the pencil and notepad then!”

The Role of the UK University: Teaching & Research

London-Metropolitan-Unive-009 (1)
Micro-management of academics is relentlessly eroding their ability to teach and conduct research.’ Above, London Metropolitan University’s super-lab. Photograph: View Pictures Ltd/Alamy

 

According to the following article on The Guardian, forcing universities to be competitive and efficient stifles their ability to what they do best: research and teach.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/06/let-uk-universities-do-what-they-do-best-teaching-and-research