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Challenge-Based Learning for Schiller Students

In an era characterized by rapid global changes and complex challenges, the landscape of education is undergoing a profound transformation. The traditional classroom model, where students primarily absorb information, has evolved into a more dynamic and immersive experience. It has become increasingly clear that education must extend beyond textbooks and lectures, encouraging students to actively engage with the pressing issues that define our world.

The importance of this shift in education cannot be overstated. As societal and environmental issues become increasingly intertwined, the an urgency for educational institutions to adopt experiential learning approaches like CBL, where students are not passive recipients of knowledge but active participants in their own education.

Furthermore, the ability to tackle complex global issues is a key skill demanded by employers in the 21st century. The CBL model aligns with the principles, emphasizing the cultivation of critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills—essential qualities for individuals striving to become true global professionals.

On 10 August 2023, Schiller students from all campuses had the opportunity to participate in the “Solving Challenges, Becoming True Global Professionals” student seminar.  

 What is Challenge-Based Learning? 

Solving challenges can provide students with an enriching and practical framework for learning while they are led to address problems from the real world. Challenge-based learning (CBL) encourages teamwork between students, allowing them to develop ideas, ask questions, identify, research, and tackle difficulties. CBL aids students in acquiring in-depth topic knowledge and the skills to prosper in their future careers.  


Three Phases: Engage, Investigate, Act 

Solving a challenge is divided into three interconnected phases: Engage, Investigate, and Act. Each stage contains activities to prepare students to move to the next phase. Within each step, there are opportunities for investigation cycles and, if necessary, a return to an earlier stage. The entire process is supported by an ongoing dynamic of documentation, reflection, and sharing with other students. 


Phase 1: Engage 

Using an essential questioning approach, students transitioned from an abstract Big Idea to a tangible and doable problem during this first phase to develop a personal connection to academic knowledge through identifying, creating, and owning a compelling task. 


The selected applied challenge was plastic, a complex subject that crosses the boundaries of science, history, politics, economics, and human behavior. Plastic is an ideal Big Idea. It is pervasive in practically everyone’s life, even though we are learning more and more about how harmful it can be to the environment and health. Plastic has improved our lives in various ways while making them more complicated.  


Students were asked to engage with the following challenge: How do we eliminate or mitigate the negative impact of plastic? They were led to consider several sub-questions: Why do we use so much plastic? What are its advantages and drawbacks? What are possible alternatives to plastic? Students prioritized and organized these questions for a productive and successful investigation. 


Phase 2: Investigate 

Building on the proposed challenge to prepare the groundwork for useable and long-lasting solutions, students designed a contextualized learning experience. They performed thorough, content- and concept-based research during the Investigate phase. 


The aim was to allow students to comprehensively understand the Big Idea by researching while accepting complexity. They considered how plastic is used in their environment and whether replacement, reduction, or recycling strategies exist. 


Students then created a synthesis demonstrating knowledge of the challenge using the main findings from their investigation. They developed ideas based on this synthesis, checked each to see whether their results backed them up, and shared them to gain feedback. Students started to think about the solution with the highest chance of success using input from other students. 


Phase 3: Act 

Students produced, implemented, and assessed evidence-based solutions during the Act phase. They showed evidence of content mastery along with a passion for transforming the world. 


Students were first asked to create a strategy to implement the solution and offer information on the possible effects. Then they worked to evaluate the validity of this solution and what may be improved further. Finally, they were asked to document, reflect, and share by building on acquired knowledge, identifying future questions, reflecting even more, and informing other students of their final thoughts on the challenge. 


Upon successful completion of this CBL seminar, attending students received a certificate. 


Dr Myriam Benraad, Global Academic Chair for International Relations & Diplomacy at Schiller International University, organized this student seminar. 

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