Research undertaken by Dr Radhika Gorur has found that residential learning engages students in learning, but also empowers them to learn.
Focusing on the Year 9 residential learning program at Clunes, Dr Gorur, Senior Lecturer at Deakin University, found that the residential learning experience enables students to develop deep insights about themselves; gain a sense of agency and empowerment; develop new capabilities; gain greater independence in their thinking and actions; and develop their capabilities and sensibilities as members of a community.
The 8 week residential program takes Year 9s from Wesley’s three Melbourne campuses to the Victorian township of Clunes. While at Clunes, students are required to take responsibility for household budgeting and domestic duties. The program blends experiential learning, social and emotional learning, community engagement, the arts, sustainability and interdisciplinary learning within the continuum of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme. A substantial curriculum element is the Individual Project, addressing a topic relevant to the local area, chosen by each student for investigation with a focus on primary sources.
Importantly, there are no classrooms and no textbooks. Learning occurs across a range of settings, contexts and physical locations: first and foremost in the students’ houses, but also in and around Clunes and the central Victorian goldfields region beyond.
A key finding of Dr Gorur’s research is that the experience directly supports students’ learning about 'self'. According to the evaluation, key elements of the Clunes Year 9 experience that engage students in learning and empower them to learn include:
- the disruption of familiar school hierarchies and practices, which enables students to take responsibility for defining boundaries and goals
- an intense focus on ‘self,’ with a broad and student-defined conception of a successful self
- a focus on continuous assessment and frequent feedback alongside student self-assessment, and
- shared experiences and challenges, both through the domestic living program, community-focused and action-oriented learning program and the Individual Project.
Dr Gorur’s analysis also reveals that, because the program is framed as a one-off experience from which students return to the ‘real life’ of schooling, students not only gain insights into their learning at Clunes, but also apply these insights on their return to their campus-based program.