Suitcase of methods
Dr Gopal Iyer
07 December 2023
This presentation discusses the use of a suitcase-based method, providing case studies from research undertaken at the Corbridge Secondary school for children between the ages of 11 and 12. The suitcase of methods comprised a collection of different techniques like reflections, storytelling, and hands-on learning supported by audio-visual outputs aimed to augment learning amongst young learners. The methods helped researchers to convey complex research topics to twelve-year-old children.
A key learning outcome of this contribution is to encourage researchers to pack different methods for a single research project and try out their distinct designs while conducting classroom interventions. Another aim of using a multitude of methods was to gather rich data from the sessions and activities carried out in the classroom.
Outline of the method
A quick skim of the literature suggests there are limited studies that mention ‘suitcase method’ (see Lin, et al., 2011) although no firm definition for this method is provided.
In our programme of research, a core team from education put together a basic structure for six weeks and then allowed the multidisciplinary team to build the content for the suitcase. The content inside the suitcase introduced learners to various topics like global climate change, sustainable development goals, fast fashion, soil testing, impact of air and water pollution and the importance of Geographical Information System (GIS) to determine climate change through a methodological approach.
In our context, the ‘suitcase of methods’ is thus a collection of different techniques to involve, engage and motivate young learners to think about some of the most pressing and complex global issues. However, such a ‘suitcase of methods’ can be designed for any field and applied to investigate or decipher any complex problem in hand. The contents inside the suitcase method are the brainchild of a multidisciplinary team of experts who gathered to put together a combination of different methods to engage children in the learning process, as they realised that children and young people have a shorter attention span. A range of methods helps to immerse them in the learning process and cement the learning concepts for prolonged periods.
The multidisciplinary teams of experts from Newcastle University came from diverse fields such as Environmental Microbiology, GIS, Soil Sciences, Landscape Architecture, and Education. A key skill required for designing the suitcase of methods is to understand the level of expertise of the people developing the content, their ability to interact with young learners, their competence to merge complex concepts with curriculum frameworks and their ability to adapt to the ever-changing classroom dynamics.
Our engagement with the project made us realise that it can be summed up as an iterative method, helping us to constantly improve our learning process, both for ourselves and the audience involved.
Drawing from interdisciplinarity
Why use a suitcase method and how does it contribute to knowledge?
- We borrowed the idea from 'constructivism' which holds that the acquisition of knowledge is not a mere mechanical process but an active construction through the constraints and offerings of the learning environment (Liu & Matthews, 2005). During the project, we encouraged learners to construct their own knowledge individually and socially through interactions, discussions and through gentle prompting, which encouraged the students to think through their own responses or solutions to issues.
- Using the process of critical reflection, we encouraged learners to interpret and create new knowledge and actions from their experiences. For instance, learners had limited understanding about the SDGs, however, over the period of time they extended their understanding on the subject as evidenced in the video.
- Critical reflection encourages learning through experiences, and helps children narrate and share their learning with people around them.
- Narrating and demonstrating evidence from factual incidents related to climate change, global warming and helping students to gain conceptual clarity on complex issues by using an evidence-based approach.
- Decoding the complexity: Students and adults usually find it difficult to understand complex numbers of graphs and figures and have a tendency to forget numbers and associated figures. Using stories as a method helps to see beyond numbers and helps to avoid the complexity and anxieties associated with it.
- Narrating stories helps to organise our thoughts and transmit our experiences to learners, helping them to form meaningful connections.
- Stories help to investigate an experience and allow individuals to gain access to the complexity of human affairs and human activity, enabling us to link it with the impact on the environment. We showed how plastics threatened the existence of the albatross and asked students to ruminate on its deleterious impact on the environment through human intervention
Effects of storytelling on participants
Everyone can relate to stories. Narrating stories helps to openly express emotions and can establish empathy from the listener. Emotions embedded in stories can imbue the story with depth and context, revealing varied emotional highs and lows (Stern, 1995). Listen to the story of Bagmati river in Nepal, originally narrated by our water security expert Kishore Acharya. The story brought out strong emotions in children during the discussion, as they were shocked and surprised by the magnitude of water pollution in developing countries.
Powerful stories are simple to communicate and can affect people positively. For instance, using powerful stories from personal experience, Malala Yousafzai has campaigned for the education of women and girls around the globe, which has positively impacted women in some of the most violence prone areas of the earth. During the sessions, we motivated learners to narrate stories capable of motivating and influencing others around them.
Hands on learning
- Hands-on, or experiential, learning is usually described as a “direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about it” (Bozark, 1981, p9). To make the encounters with the learners more meaningful and joyful, we ensured the process integrated three major components: knowledge, fun, and reflection.
- Every child is unique, and Dewey acknowledged that the uniqueness in learners stems from differences in circumstances and needs. Providing bespoke experiences helps in meeting the learning needs of the students and gives the freedom to interact with the content being taught in the classroom (Grady, 2003, p. 8).
- Different engagement models were undertaken, for instance, to bring out childrens' understanding, creativity, expressiveness and action for change. For instance, learners were encouraged to draw and create a superhero who could save the world. Practical experiences to test soil, water and air quality provided the learners with rich learning experiences, helping them to amalgamate an authentic hands-on experience emulating the real-world research.
Using a suitcase of methods helps us to bring together different components from our methodological tool kits to support learning. We packed our suitcase with reflections, storytelling, hands-on learning, and audio-visual methods. These methods can be transplanted to numerous contexts and settings to investigate the different attributes of human behaviour. The research team’s next endeavour is to take these methods to our global collaboratories where they shall be implemented in some of the most challenging circumstances.