Experiential learning is a powerful way not only to engage students but to lead them to approach learning in a whole different way, to “grab” the material from different (often more personal) angles.  Increasingly, I lean toward project-based learning (PBL) and have given talks on my approach in several US cities and three other countries.  PBL, which typically is team-based, requires students to take on real problems, using the tools and techniques that they would use to problem-solve in the real world.  It also gives students more control over their learning, putting instructors in the position of facilitators rather than (only) as deliverers of information.  PBL also accommodates different learning styles within the classroom and within student groups as students learn to use a variety of learning modalities to problem-solve and communicate their ideas.  Finally, it can increase student achievement by drawing students into the learning process in a way that allows them to feel ownership over their work and to play to their strengths.  I have piloted two university-wide teaching initiatives at UMD, Global Classroom and Fearless Ideas, and have used my PBL course model for both of these.  Activities I use in other courses range from short, half-class role-plays, to year-long service learning projects (such as through the Public Leadership Community-Based Learning program that I developed and led).  I also use simulations, such as the one-day “Budgeting for Poverty” simulation I created, which places students in “families,” gives them a story and asks them to make their financial ends meet over the course of one month.  In my Introduction to International Development and Conflict Management class I have used one-to-three-day crisis negotiation simulations.  Formal team debates, ranging from US healthcare reform (fall 2009) to whether foreign aid works and whether there is a moral obligation to provide aid (fall 2012) are also popular and effective, linking my desire to make students think critically with the imperative that they become adept at articulating their views and expressing them orally, all through engaged classroom experience.
“Interdisciplinarity” is a hot word in contemporary college education.  Since I began teaching undergraduate students at the University of Maryland in 2007, I have striven to ensure that my courses walk the walk.  In the Minor in International Development and Conflict Management, housed in the Department of Government and Politics, I have taught two undergraduate courses in international development, peace, and conflict management dozens of times, honing my approach with successive iterations.  The Introduction course draws heavily on political science texts but also relies on works in philosophy, sociology, and economics, as well as documents from international organizations such as the UN and the World Bank.  The Capstone course in International Development is interdisciplinary at its core, relying on a project-based, client-based model of development problem solving that relies on real-world engagement with development practitioners, industry texts and guides, and concrete examples that cover fields ranging from agriculture to community health to education to small business development to disaster risk reduction.  In my previous role at UMD, during my five years as the Associate Director of the College Park Scholars Public Leadership program, I taught 12 sections each of two small undergraduate courses—Public Leadership and Applied Leadership—as well as 10 sections of an experiential learning course called Guided Teaching in Public Leadership.  All of these courses draw from “the disciplines” and on interdisciplinary scholarship (in fields such as leadership and management studies, development studies, and peace and conflict studies), while also relying heavily on current events, contemporary political commentary, and examples of real-world development programs and ethics questions.
I aim to inspire, excite, and challenge my students through my choice of learning material and style of classroom management and by doing my best to lead by example, to model the kind of citizen I hope they will become:  socially aware, self-aware, and engaged in their communities.  I also aim to build their skills in critical dialogue.  All of my classes tackle issues of power and privilege, justice and ethics, identity and community, solidarity and difference.  This was true of my teaching high school English; it was true of my teaching leadership; and it is true of my teaching international development and conflict management.  However, I do not spend much time “lecturing” on these topics, and students appreciate the chance to “actually talk amongst ourselves instead of being talked at” (student evaluation).  Rather, I attempt to guide students in developing the ability to answer the questions “What do I believe?” and “Why do I believe this?” and to articulate clearly their responses to the diverse audience that is their peers and professors and sometimes their clients.  In doing the former, I guide them in using both ethical reflection and evidence-based reasoning.  For the latter, I try to cultivate respectful, open dialogue in the classroom, include participation in the course grade, and require at least one oral presentation per course.  One freshman wrote in an evaluation “I learned to look at the construction of society more critically and discuss why I hold certain values over others.”

Emphasizing the real-world applications of the concepts I teach, I draw learning material from diverse sources, including videos, newspaper articles, industry and academic texts, primary sources, reports from international organizations, and “great works.”  One way in which I attempt to help students bridge their perceived academia-reality gap is through case studies.  Another is by pairing student groups with clients in the professional world whose “development challenges” posed at the start of the semester form the basis for student research, innovation, and design throughout the next 15 weeks as they work in teams to design solutions (in the form of development projects) to address those challenges (PBL in action).  Yet another way in which I strive to make classroom learning as practical as possible is by assigning assessments—“deliverables”—of the sort that students might be asked to do in a professional capacity in government or development work:  memos, conflict maps, issue briefs, stakeholder analyses, problem analyses, results-based frameworks, concept notes, professional “pitches,” and so on.
The atmosphere of respectful deliberation for which I strive, while sometimes hard to achieve, pays off as students grow comfortable with discussing difficult topics and feel empowered to share their views and think for themselves, even (as I encourage) to challenge me.  When asked what worked well in the course, one student said:  “Stacy as a discussion facilitator—it made talking easy and helped other people express their opinions to me.”  These skills help students to grow not only intellectually, but personally, as citizens.  Because of the importance I place on this outcome, I have been especially gratified—touched, actually—by the several students who have thanked me “for the investment you have put to make me a greater student and ultimately a better citizen” and for having “shaped me to be a better individual than when I first entered the program” (student emails).