My experience as a student was shaped by attending a university with the mantra, “Learn by Doing.” Learning styles vary between students, but I believe embracing a Learn by Doing model can encourage students with different preferred methods of learning to engage with the material by providing a protected environment for trial and error. Visual learners can observe their peers and the instructor, verbal and auditory learners can discuss, and kinesthetic learners can physically engage with the topic, all within the active learning environment. 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 a deeper understanding of the material.
One of the ways I approach incorporating Learn by Doing strategies in my classroom is through mini projects that illustrate foundational concepts. These mini-projects are designed to foster curiosity about how packaging works, such as the importance of barrier properties, what to consider when choosing a material, or what elements of a logo are visually salient. The mini-projects also provide a consistent framework of to refer back to across multiple lectures and provide chances to collaborate with classmates. Encouraging students to engage and participate in answering questions about case studies or articles with their peers is another method I utilize with the goal of encouraging students to take ownership of their understanding of the course material.
In addition to active learning activities and in class assignments I facilitate in the classroom, I have also developed assignments requiring observation and analysis of the environment or students’ personal experiences, with the goal of creating lasting connections between the course material and the world outside the classroom. Specifically for the introductory packaging course I have 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. 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. While knowledge of the foundational packaging material is what is covered on the exams, I structured other types of assessments to provide students an opportunity to tie their demonstrated knowledge of packaging to an area of particular interest, either by developing an idea for a new packaging solution to a problem, finding a popular press article about packaging, or a scientific journal article about an area of packaging covered in the course.
The packaging field is a combination of multiple subject areas that are all equally important. A key concept I emphasize 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 the 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 are some of the ways I can demonstrate that core to my students.
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, my hope is 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 both in and out of the classroom is how I strive to articulate those goals.