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Educational theory pioneer heads U. of I. workshop

2/22/2010 | Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor | 217-333-0568;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A pioneering anthropologist who developed groundbreaking new theories on learning will headline an educational workshop next month at the University of Illinois.

The March 31 event will examine the role of direct, hands-on experience in teaching and learning, showing how people learn by doing or from peers rather just through traditional classroom instruction.

The workshop will feature University of California-Berkeley professor Jean Lave, a social anthropologist and social learning scholar who is the architect of landmark theories on the importance of experience in learning.

Lave, an Urbana native, and educational theorist Etienne Wenger pioneered two breakthrough educational theories known as situated learning and community of practice.

Situated learning asserts that people learn best when lessons are applied through real experience rather than in classrooms, where knowledge is abstract and out of context. Lave found, for example, that housewives who could do the necessary math for comparison-shopping were unable to solve the same problems in a classroom.

Lave and Wenger’s communities of practice theory maintains that learning also occurs naturally through groups of people who share a common interest, whether on a factory floor, work lunchroom or through an online discussion group.

Lave, a graduate of University Laboratory High School who earned her doctorate from Harvard University in 1968, has published three books. Her father, Herbert E. Carter, was a chemistry professor at the U. of I.

The workshop also will include presentations by U. of I. anthropology professor Janet Keller and Nina Tarr, a professor in the U. of I. College of Law, along with problem-solving exercises and a group discussion.

The workshop will be from 1 to 4 p.m. March 31 in the Faculty Lounge and Conference Center, Room 215, at the College of Law, 504 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Champaign.

The workshop is free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so participants must register by March 18 at or

Support and planning has been provided by the College of Law; department of anthropology, College of Education Teaching Academy; College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Academy; College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Teaching Academy; and Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

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