Student Directed Learning: An Online Exhibition for a Historic Costume Collection

Article excerpt

This article highlights the structure, procedures, and outcomes of a course organized using a student-directed learning approach to develop an online exhibition website as an outcome for a client. The teaching strategy required students to work in teams and carefully plan assignments to build on the development of the exhibition. Students said they learned about various topics related to costume history, promotions, and website development. They gained practical prof essional skills such as teamwork and time management. A student-directed learning approach provides enriching experiences for both teachers and students, but requires careful reflection to assess its sustainability and connectivity in curriculum.

Community service and problem-based learning have received attention in family and consumer sciences (FCS) recently as a means to show students the relevance of knowledge to their lives (Smith, 2010). Community service, immersive, and problem-based learning are examples of approaches whereby content is delivered in the context of a real world situation rather than in a traditional format of lecture and texts.

Apparel and textiles is an area in which industry and education can exploit many opportunities that are beneficial to both sectors. Leahy and Gottfried (2008) discussed an immersive learning project whereby students in a variety of majors were hired to consult with fashion retailers about business needs including promotional programs and buying plans. Problem-based learning (PBL), where students direct their learning by developing questions for projects, has been used and documented in merchandising courses in which students partnered with retail professionals, explored concepts about textiles, and developed a design for a retail space (Carpenter & Fairhurst, 2005; Farr, Ownbey, Branson, & Starr, 2005; Kimmons & Spruiell, 2005). Assessments of these projects revealed enhanced development of skills related to problem-solving, relationships, self-directed learning, critical thinking, researching, and teamwork. The PBL approach addressed attitudes related to professionalism, such as accepting and giving constructive criticism.

Efforts made in teaching apparel and textiles to give students opportunities for directed learning focus mainly on developing content and activities as part of or in addition to an existing course. This article presents the structure, procedures, and outcomes of an entire course that, unlike previous accounts, was developed primarily using a student-directed learning approach by: (a) presenting teaching strategies incorporated in the course, (b) assessing students' learning, and (c) identifying the benefits and drawbacks of this approach and its potential inclusion within the FCS curriculum.

Course Content, Structure, and Evaluation

The course focused on a student directed activity to develop an exhibition website for a collection housed at Ball State University, which has 3,500 artifacts of historic apparel for men, women, and children. This online exhibition was to serve as an educational tool using historic artifacts from the collection to address contemporary needs. The exhibition was to include an outreach program to inform community members on how to find appropriate workplace outfits on a budget. The initial collaboration included the collection, the university, and retail companies supplying contemporary clothing. As the project developed, related agencies were identified and became part of the collaboration.

The online exhibition content was developed during a 5 -week summer class; it was deemed appropriate because the collection does not have the physical space for an onsite exhibition. Before starting the course, client relationships and funding were established. Students with diverse majors were recruited using email announcements and visits to administrators of related programs. Students took the course as an elective and/or to meet course requirements of the fashion minor or major. …