To enhance engagement and deepen learning in undergraduate courses that focus on adult development and aging, two informal advocacy classroom activities were created and surveyed. The surveys were brief empirical assessments of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) activities, and contained closed- and open-ended questions. The first study investigated a PBL activity that addressed public policy and health care issues encountered by older adults and their families, and required students to create a detailed advocacy position supporting either the perspective of college students and young adults, or of a special group of older adults (e.g., cognitively impaired, chronically ill, etc). Results from Study 1 suggested that in comparison to the advocacy perspective of young adults, adopting the advocacy perspective of older adults significantly moderated survey ratings of awareness, insight, and gaining of knowledge, and led to deeper learning. The second study investigated the expression of enjoyment in learning using a PBL activity that required the development of a public service announcement poster that would teach about an important concern of older adults (e.g., age-discrimination, costs of health care, life-review, etc.). Results from Study 2 suggested students’ enjoyment of the informal advocacy discussion and the creation of a public service announcement to be positively associated with survey ratings of increased insight, enhanced understanding, broader awareness, and the gaining of new knowledge about the concerns of older adults. Narrative responses from both studies suggest informal advocacy for older adults to promote deeper learning as reflected in increased empathic understanding, ethical concern, and greater personal involvement with central topics of discussion.

Author's Biographies

Dean D. VonDras, PhD, is professor of human development and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he teaches Introduction to Human Development, Adult Development and Aging, and Spirituality and Development. He has a special research interest in teaching and learning practices, as well as the intertwining of health and psychological processes in adult development and aging, and maintains an ongoing research program that involves undergraduate students in human development and psychology. He has been recognized as a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Teaching Scholar, a University of Wisconsin System Teaching Fellow, and has received awards for best practices in teaching, and creative approaches to teaching.

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