In 10 round tables they sat discussing their experiences in practice. For the 78 students enrolled in the Field Experience Program (FEP), the Student Practitioner Conference last week offered an opportunity to both directly apply and share what they learned in their coursework.
“It is important that experience and reflection on practice become an integral part of the community discussions we have,” says FEP Director and Lecturer Eileen McGowan. “These students spend a lot of time engaging through journaling and through classwork, but this is the chance to share it with the larger community. It speaks to the commitment the program has to integrate their experience of coursework, practice, and reflection.”
McGowan says the idea for a student practice conference grew out of the Student Research Conference. “This conference is really the other side,” she says. “As a school of education where we talk about the nexus of practice, policy, and research, it was an oversight to only have a conference devoted to student research.”
Over the years, students enrolled in FEP shared their experiences in various formats, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they adopted the roundtable discussion–style conference. “We wanted to make sure all the students who did the FEP had a chance to be in discussion with other students,” McGowan says.
Students are purposely placed in one of nine topics that categorize the internship areas, ranging from “working in organizations” to “reflections on school settings” to “assessment tools and lesson plans across settings.” Then, each student is placed with other students working in similar areas and a faculty or alumni facilitator. They are given an opportunity to discuss their internship, what they learned, and field questions from their peers. As McGowan points out, the discussions really allow for a chance to gain insight and new knowledge in which the students can include in their final papers at the end of the semester.
For Juliet Chia, a master’s candidate in Learning and Teaching, FEP was an opportunity for her to actually teach. A preschool curriculum developer in Singapore, Chia admits she had never taught in a classroom before FEP. The experience of working as a teaching assistant in a kindergarten classroom at Cambridgeport Schools allowed her to experience the challenges a teacher faces and the demands of the work. “It struck me how much I’d invested and the learning that can come from this experience,” she says.
Chia, along with Vanity Gee, a master’s candidate in the Arts in Education Program who presented about her work at the MIT Media Lab, participated in a roundtable discussion called “Approaches to Curriculum and Data” which was facilitated by Lecturer Pamela Mason.
Mason noted that the roundtables present a valuable opportunity to synthesize learning. “The roundtable presentations help students distill their learning and pose problems of practice to their peers," she says.
Gee also found the format valuable. “This turned out to be better than I expected,” she says. “These are such dynamic people. It’s not so much about the internship but it’s about the work. The folks here are doing stuff that matters.”