Learning by doing

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
— Benjamin Franklin

This adage captures the spirit of the College of Arts and Sciences’ new experiential learning program. The program immerses students in learning environments that will allow them to walk confidently into careers after college.

Rex Lyon and Jared Smith make sure everything is properly positioned at the Department of Architecture’s project in Mobridge.

Rex Lyon and Jared Smith make sure everything is properly positioned at the Department of Architecture’s project in Mobridge.

“Experiential learning serves a dual purpose,” said  College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dennis Papini, who is spearheading the program. “It provides high-impact educational activities that, in turn, produce longer and lasting learning. That added value allows graduates to be more effective employees after college.”

Firsthand knowledge gained in four years in the College of Arts and Sciences experiential learning certificate program (EXPL) can be the key to success in today’s competitive job market.

Too often, job candidates who don’t have real-world work experience find themselves in the back of the pack. A track record that shows they have the skills required for the job will move the college’s graduates to the head of the pack where they belong.

Experiential learning hasn’t always been at the forefront in the liberal arts. The traditional mode of learning, attending lectures and completing assignments, provides a broad foundation of knowledge.

Experiential learning builds on that foundation as students develop the skills that are most in demand with employers. These are effective communication, critical thinking, team leadership and cooperation with others, all benefits of a liberal arts education.

“These may be called soft skills, but we know that, to almost any employer, they’re what make an employee valuable,” said Papini. “Experiential learning, along with these skills, is a recipe for workplace success.”

Over the past year, a task force of arts and sciences professors developed this program that will roll out fall 2015. The professors spent the year discovering, researching and developing the EXPL curriculum. The program is seeking Board of Regents approval this fall.

When approved, students can enroll in the Experiential Learning Scholars Program that offers hands-on learning courses to sophomore students and above who have GPAs of 2.5 or higher.

Students who complete the courses and requirements earn the distinction of the EXPL certificate stamp on their final transcripts.

“Learning in unique environments, experiencing a different culture and applying classroom material to real-world projects all relate to bridging the gap between classroom and career,” said Papini. “Many of our professors are already implementing an array of experiential activities into their curriculum.”

For a service-learning project in their French class, Jaimie Gibbons & Jory Marinan spend an afternoon at the Haiti Solar Oven Partners workshop in Volga where they pre-assemble solar ovens that will be shipped in a sea container to Haiti.

For a service-learning project in their French class, Jaimie Gibbons & Jory Marinan spend an afternoon at the Haiti Solar Oven Partners workshop in Volga where they pre-assemble solar ovens that will be shipped in a sea container to Haiti.

The rest of the professors across arts and sciences will have the option of revising their current courses and curriculum to expand EXPL experiences available to students.

In EXPL courses, students gain experience-based learning by networking with faculty and engaging in research and creative activities that lead to personal discovery and professional development. While adding to their skill set, students have broad culture and community experiences and discover new ideas.

“Students are already completing service-learning projects and studying abroad—which are experiential learning,” said Papini. “We aren’t creating anything new, just coordinating all of these into a comprehensive academic experience.”

Each EXPL course will include a high-impact educational activity that goes beyond classroom learning, an individual or team project, a public presentation or performance, self-reflection and an overall program assessment.

To receive the EXPL transcript stamp, students must complete 15 hours of coursework in at least three different types of EXPL courses.

These are:
•    Service learning helping a community achieve its goals,
•    Applied learning in a real-world setting for an actual client or project,
•    Field-based learning taking students into the field or outside environment,
•    Integrative learning making connections across courses and programs,
•    Scholarly learning including scientific research and creative performances, and
•    Study abroad learning immersing in another country and culture.

An external activity, such as conducting an off-campus research project, is required. Also, one internal activity, such as leading a campus charity or organization, is necessary.

When the 15 hours of course credit are completed, students take a one-credit course designed to help them develop an e-portfolio.

Throughout the entire process, students document their activities via blog, journal, vlog or other approved channels.

“Program evaluation will be central,” said Papini. “We want to know what faculty and students like about the program, and also things we can change to make their experience even more effective.

“It would be great to use this experiential learning program as a model for other colleges on campus. It’s definitely a teaching and learning program that can be spread throughout every area of the university.”

 

Karissa Kuhle

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