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New research published on experiential learning and Soka education at UofGH

Experiential learning provides critical opportunities for students to make significant impact on their own wellbeing and society overall, according to a new scholarly article co-authored by University of Guelph-Humber Family & Community Social Services (FCSS) Program Head Dr. Paul Sherman and FCSS instructor Olivia Boukydis.

Titled “Framing Undergraduate Perspectives on Experiential Learning Within Soka Education Theory” and published in the IAFOR Journal of Education: Undergraduate Education, the article is based on two studies conducted at the University of Guelph-Humber’s Soka Education Research Centre on Glbal Citizenship (SERC-GC) that explored undergraduate teacher and student perspectives of experiential learning framed within Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s concept of Soka (value creating) education.

To conduct the studies, 10 University of Guelph-Humber instructors and 12 students answered a series of identical interview questions. Those responses were then analyzed for themes related to Makiguchi’s values of beauty, gain, and good as postulated in his Theory of Value.

For Dr. Sherman, the data contained some interesting insights not only about perspectives on experiential learning among students and faculty, but also how they viewed UofGH specifically.

“The first thing that popped out for the research team was how overwhelmingly positive everyone, teachers and students alike, was about their experiential learning at the University of Guelph-Humber,” Dr. Sherman reflected.

“They commented, for example, on the gratifying nature that this type of learning offers, how it fosters empathy and enhanced perspective taking, how it develops transferable growth-enhancing skills, and how experiential learning helps students develop a broader awareness of issues that impact communities at the local and global level. This was particularly noted through our study abroad program. All of this speaks very well to the importance placed on the experiential learning platform in all programs at UofGH.”

“Related to the focus of our research,” he added, “our key findings were that instructors placed a higher degree of importance in experiential learning on the value of gain (e.g., acquired knowledge and skills), with the values of beauty (e.g., satisfaction and gratification) and good (e.g., benefits to society) accorded less importance than gain, but fairly equal to each other. Comparatively, students assigned beauty and gain of equal import in experiential learning, and to a lesser degree ascribed value to the positive impact their learning might have on society.”

A humanistic approach

Makiguchi’s concept of Soka (value creating) education – in particular his Theory of Value – posits that happiness and wellbeing are a function of the three values of beauty, gain and good.

One takeaway from this research is that teachers tended to see experiential learning as more of a platform for students to grow their skills, knowledge or professional potential, rather than its capacity to provide an element of beauty or societal good.

Dr. Sherman suggests that there could be significant benefit in incorporating more of this philosophy in North American educational curriculums.

“Value creating (Soka) education is a humanistic philosophy that is a very new concept in Western educational circles. In North American higher education, for example, we have become too focused, I think, on the purpose of education being to prepare students for a career,” Dr. Sherman said. “Infusing value creating principles into education benefits both the teacher and the learner in many ways, not the least being the development of an impactful relationship between teacher and student that contributes to each other's growth and happiness as human beings.

“The research results are interesting, and by and large, both students and teachers alike are fascinated with the idea that the purpose of education should be about students’ happiness,” he added.

Work has already begun on the third research project from SERC-GC. The new study is exploring the experiences of educators who practice Soka (value creating) pedagogy in their teaching and learning environments, with the goal of shedding more light on how educators might apply value-creating principles with their students.

A fruitful partnership

Directed by Dr. Sherman, the Soka Education Research Centre on Global Citizenship offers students an opportunity to be part of a small research group that focuses on Soka education's application for educational and community settings – with an emphasis on global citizenship – while also contributing to local and international discourse on Soka education research and practical application.

The only institute of its kind in Canada and one of only two in all of North America, the SERC-GC at the University of Guelph-Humber received $150,000 in additional funding over five years from the Makiguchi Foundation for Education in Japan earlier this year.

Further, over the past two years, SERC-GC’s student research assistants presented their research at the annual Soka Education Conference at Soka University of America in Los Angeles.

“It's exciting to see the growth of SERC-GC in terms of its establishment as a research centre, being the first of its kind in Canada, and now conducting our third research project,” Boukydis said. “I continue to be impressed by our research assistants, past and present, not only because of their dedication to research activities and their research skills, but also how they embrace the principles of value-creating education. Under Paul's leadership, I am looking forward to seeing what is ahead for us and how SERC-GC will contribute to the study and application of Soka education.”

“Our partnership with Soka University in Japan is extremely strong on so many fronts and I think UofGH can be very proud of the value we are creating by studying and disseminating knowledge and practical applications of Soka pedagogy,” Dr. Sherman added. “There is very little scholarly activity in Canada with respect to Soka education and I think the results of SERC-GC's activities will be noteworthy for UofGH in many years to come.

“On a more personal level, I am extremely proud of the way the students on our team present our research so professionally and articulately at the annual Soka Education Conference at Soka University of America. Our research is always well received, and it really speaks to the phenomenal education our students are getting at UofGH.”