My experience as a student was shaped by attending a university with the mantra, “Learn by Doing.” Learning styles vary between students, but embracing a Learn by Doing model can encourage students from all styles to engage with the material. Visual learners can observe their peers and the instructor, verbal and auditory learners can discuss, and kinesthetic learners can physically engage with the topic. As my role has shifted from student to educator, active learning has remained the consistent foundation I build my classroom around as I expose my students to new material to help foster curiosity while they develop their own motivation for deeper understanding of the material.
One of the ways I approach learning by doing strategies, strategies that foster curiosity about how things work, is through incorporating mini projects that illustrate foundational concepts such as the importance of barrier properties or observations of retail environments that provide a consistent theme to revisit across multiple lectures. These active learning activities and assignments, which require observation and analysis of their environment or experiences, can create lasting connections between the course material and the world outside the classroom. Encouraging students to engage and participate in answering questions about case studies or articles with their peers it is another method of developing their own understanding of the course material. Specifically, at Michigan State, for a packaging course I taught, I cultivated a partnership with the university Museum that enabled a field trip to visit a historic general store to illustrate how the branding, packing, and display of products reflects society more tangibly. While knowledge of the material is what is covered on the formal assessments, creating activities and opportunities for students to form more connections between the course concepts and practical examples creates a framework for integration of information from other disciplines—a key feature of packaging training, while preparing the students for success after the term ends.
My field is a combination of multiple subject areas that are all equally important. An emphasisis to my students in my teaching is that understanding how to design a visually appealing label that complies with regulatory guidelines is no less important a skill than understanding how to calculate the shelf life of a new food product or how to determine a product’s fragility. As an instructor with the privilege of exposing students to my discipline for the first time, I believe it is my responsibility to prepare future packaging students to engage in the interdisciplinarity of packaging by developing relationships with their peers across disciplines. Packaging is at its core is interdisciplinary; bringing in outside voices through articles from many different sources and expert guest speakers discussing different areas of expertise within the field can demonstrate that core.
My goal for my students is to end their time in my class with a desire to continue their engagement with the subject. While they might not take any more formal classes in the discipline, I hope they will continue to engage with the concepts and materials by implementing design thinking strategies, critically thinking about the sustainability of materials used to package the products they consume, and to continue to read and educate themselves on the ways their disciplines intersect with packaging, marketing, and consumer behavior. Creating learn by doing opportunities and fostering curiosity in the classroom is how I strive to articulate those goals.