WORKSHOP: Using Experiential Learning to Teach Toward Social Justice Awareness in the 21st Century (40 mins)


  • Aoi Yamanaka George Mason University
  • Graziella McCarron George Mason University
  • Elizabeth Schierbeek George Mason University
  • Garrett Fojtik George Mason University



The role of experiential learning is central to social justice pedagogy (Adam, 2016). However, not all experiences are educational; some have the opposite effect. According to Dewey (1997), “Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience” (p. 25). The challenges of social justice education through experiential learning are designing effective experiential activities and developing students’ efficacy and capacity to take action as change agents because individuals engage in critical action when they perceive that they have the capacity to affect social and political change, whether individually or collaboratively (Watts, Diemer, & Voight, 2011). This process starts with individuals’ participation, but they need to continue the examination, action, and reflection processes (Kolb, 1984; Montero, 2009). Therefore, an instructor’s responsibility is to design quality experiential learning.

Previous studies have affirmed the importance of promoting learning environments that value experience and actively integrate it with evolving knowledge through service learning (Everett, 1998; Mayhew & Engberg, 2011; Tinkler, Hannah, Tinkler, & Miller, 2015). This can be challenging for students who have limited time outside of class to interact with their communities as part of the social justice and human rights learning process.

Therefore, this session will take a closer look at this gap in practice regarding students with competing demands. In this session, the presenters will share the following strategies, approaches, and resources: 1) We will share the results of our recent study, in which we examined how experiential learning activities help to move students toward greater awareness of social justice and human rights issues and what types of experiential learning activities play larger roles in evolving students’ awareness of social justice and human rights issues as future change agents. 2) We will provide the participants with tools and strategies for designing experiential learning to equip students with the critical analysis skills they need to develop awareness, knowledge, and processes with which to examine the effects of inequality and oppression on the individual, institutional, and societal levels and to help students cultivate skills and tools to interrupt those inequalities and oppressions.

In order for the participants to learn the strategies, approaches, and resources described above, the participants will share their own challenges and goals, and will have an opportunity to brainstorm effective experiential learning designs. This session will also address effective experiential learning in online classes, and the strategies, approaches, and resources explored would be broadly applicable.

Author Biographies

Aoi Yamanaka, George Mason University

Dr. Aoi Yamanaka is an Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Academic Services in the School of Integrative Studies, where she teaches courses on social justice and global leadership. She also serves as an academic advisor, and her advising focuses on student affairs, student development, and student engagements. In addition to her teaching and academic advising experiences, Dr. Yamanaka has experiences in international education in the western Michigan and northern Virginia areas. Dr. Yamanaka’s current scholarship focuses on social justice issues in higher education, cultural leadership, and civic engagement in a diverse environment.

Graziella McCarron, George Mason University

****TEA 2018 Winner****

Dr. McCarron teaches in the Leadership Studies program at the School of Integrative Studies focusing on courses in ethics and leadership and leading change. Her professional background integrates experience in corporate practice with higher education administration and student engagement. A significant focus of Dr. McCarron’s higher education practice included improving access and experience for adult and first-generation learners. In addition to serving as faculty at George Mason University, Dr. McCarron consults on issues of organizational practice, assessment, curriculum, and effective higher education program design. 

Elizabeth Schierbeek, George Mason University

Elizabeth Schierbeek is currently working on her capstone, a thesis involving extensive fieldwork with the Maijuna community in rural Peru titled “Community Position Statements as Tools for Biocultural Conservation and Social Change: An Environmental Justice Case Study from the Peruvian Amazon.”  

With a strong foundation from her undergraduate degree (BA, Integrative Studies, George Mason University, 2017), Elizabeth extended her interest in social justice to environmental justice in the Peruvian Amazon. Interdisciplinary Studies’ Individualized Studies concentration, the “design it yourself” master’s degree, provided Elizabeth with flexibility and support to explore the intersections between indigenous rights, biocultural diversity, and environmental science. 

Garrett Fojtik, George Mason University

Garrett is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) program concentrating in Social Justice and Human Rights. He is also completing a Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies. His research and teaching interests center on social and environmental justice, gender and sexuality studies, personal and social transformation, and critiques of corporate well-being initiatives. He currently serves as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and Academic Advisor for the School of Integrative Studies.





WEDNESDAY 11:00 - 11:40 am