Susan Hirsch and Agnieszka Paczynska
School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
In a field such as conflict analysis and resolution, it is common for professors to use role-playing and simulations to engage students in the classroom, but Mason professors Susan Hirsch and Agnieszka Paczynska wanted to take a closer look at experiential learning and how it prepares students for careers.
As the principal investigators on a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education grant titled Linking Theory to Practice, the two have developed and tested a series of experiential learning activities designed to prepare students for hands-on field experiences.
“Experiential learning is critical for any subject, and we wanted to give students the capacity to apply what they are learning sooner,” says Hirsch. “Applied practice asks something of our students out in the world. It makes sense to start that process as they are learning conflict theories.”
From senior scholars to graduate teaching assistants, many of the school’s faculty have been involved with the implementation and assessment of these activities, which include such exercises as an international negotiation over gas drilling rights and conducting a focus group. Some students implement these and other skills through another project initiative: short-term, field-based courses called service learning intensives. The intensives have taken students to Liberia, Colombia, and Charleston, West Virginia, where the school has partnerships with local groups.
“Implementing some of these activities isn’t the easiest thing, but it can have such a big payoff in terms of learning,” Hirsch says.