Taking learning outside of the classroom

19 February 2020

A University of Queensland religion course has gained notoriety for exploring goat yoga in an attempt to deepen students learning about identity, difference and humanity.

This type of experiential and place-based learning was implemented by lecturer Dr Ryan Williams, who has released a research report built on the energy and enthusiasm of participating students.

Funded through a HASS development grant, students are encouraged to visit particular sites in and around Brisbane to explore the complexity and diversity of religious expression today.

These places include formal religious sites such as temples, mosques, churches or synagogues. But it also includes less conventional sites for exploring forms of religious, spiritual and secular life; including public and natural spaces, artists’ networks and galleries, alternative medicine clinics (including goat yoga), housegroups, concerts, beaches or sporting events at The Gabba.

Dr Williams said World Religions Course (RELN1000) offers students an exciting opportunity to learn outside the university and use observations of these places to deepen their understanding of the subject matter.

“Findings indicate that the course added practical value to their learning through enabling a greater appreciation of diversity, heightening awareness and reflection on their own identities, and shaped their entrance into career pathways where diversity is part of everyday life,” he said.

Head of UQ’s School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry Professor Megan Cassidy-Welch said religious diversity, identity, and tolerance are issues of crucial contemporary importance.

“Addressing these issues through a humanities education challenges students to reflect on their own social outlook, develop self-knowledge, and challenge assumptions around cultural and religious difference,” she said.

The research also had wider social benefit, with each participant choosing to donate to one of three local charities: Orangesky Laundry, ERaced, and DVconnect.

Through focus groups, interviews, and a questionnaire, the project aimed to capture students’ voices about social concerns surrounding diversity and inclusion, and show innovative teaching and learning that bridges the University with the wider Brisbane community.

“Students described how bringing experience together with lecture and reading content enhanced their ability to learn and enabled creativity and empathy,” Dr Williams said.

Students also described how site visits enhanced their learning because it engaged their wider sensory experience, feelings, and relational experiences.

“Students felt ‘awkwardness’, heard ‘sounds’, were confronted with material objects and people, and were put into spaces they weren’t normally in,” he said.

“This study emphasises the need for interdisciplinary education and the value in learning about the diversity of worldviews, traditions and practices,” Dr Williams said.

This research on ‘Experiential Learning and Global Citizenship’ received Ethics Approval from the Humanities and Social Sciences Sub-Committee at the University of Queensland, conducted by Ryan Williams (Chief Investigator), Annika Alvarez, Finn Armstrong, and Sophie Ryan.

The research was generously funded through a development grant awarded to Ryan Williams from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and through the 2019 UQ Student-Staff Partnership Program.