Transformative Holistic Learning Experiences through Study Abroad: Place-Based Pedagogy with Pre/In-service Teachers

Sara Raven


Teachers’ first three years are challenging for a variety of reasons, and can result in them choosing to leave the profession. Reasons for leaving are numerous, but can include: feeling unprepared to teach diverse groups of students, lack of self-satisfaction and engagement, and feeling disconnected from students and the educational space. International, place-based experiences provide opportunities to address interdisciplinary connections through intersectional lenses, which can provide rich experiences for teachers to meet the needs of our increasingly changing educational landscape. Research shows that international experiences, as well as pedagogical experiences grounded in “place” outside of traditional classroom contexts, can positively impact teachers holistically.

In an effort to address these issues, the authors investigated the following research questions: How does an international place-based learning experience in Costa Rica impact pre- and inservice teachers? And to what extent do the participating pre and inservice teachers indicate an intention to implement place-based pedagogical learning experiences? Using Singleton’s (2015) Head, Heart and Hands Model for Transformational Learning, Mezirow’s (1991) transformative learning theory, and Pugh’s (2002) pragmatic construct of transformational learning experience, this paper investigates the impact of experiential learning within an international study abroad. Students’ guided written reflections of their experiences were analyzed using a priori coding and categorized into three learning domains: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. Additionally, we coded interactions between those domains and students’ resulting understandings.

Findings indicate that this experience powerfully impacted each individual in a variety of ways; however, all participants report experiencing some deep and profound change. Much of the development in the cognitive domain concerned students’ experiences engaging a wide variety of content-specific knowledge through interdisciplinary activities. We supply several samples of participant writing pertaining to knowledge acquired; however, the supplied examples are not exhaustive in and of themselves. Many students wrote of knowledge acquired along several varied knowledge bases. These included aspects of sustainability, agriculture, ecology, geology, animal behavior, political and educational structures, Costa Rican culture, U.S.-Costa Rican relations, colonization, and the impact of climate change.

The more physically active elements of the study abroad directly contributed to participants’ psychomotor development, and students reported feeling more confident and engaged, especially as they worked on overcoming fears and doing things they’ve never done before. Lastly, in the affective domain, participants consistently reflected on a reinvigorated passion for teaching and learning, and the experiences contributed to deconstructing stereotypes they held about people different from themselves.

The present study indicates the need for inclusion of challenging and international experiences, the improvement of practices and attitudinal shifts for inservice teachers, and the purposeful development of multi-disciplinary curricular approaches and of place-based pedagogy.


study abroad; transformative learning experiences

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