Experiential Educator Feature
What does experiential learning mean to you?
Experiential learning provides students with the opportunity to collaborate with real-industry partners, as they apply their knowledge and skills to real-world solutions and have a meaningful impact on classroom learning. These valuable learning experiences reflect the potential of the real-world by embracing unpredictability and unforeseen challenges. The classroom becomes a reflective space where students can work together with the teacher to solve problems that develop during their work with a professional partner.
Why is experiential learning a priority for you?
There is a lot of desire for learning that provides “real-world experiences,” particularly for schools and divisions of professional education. As an educator and administrator in a professional school I find that more and more students are seeking learning opportunities that include real-world opportunities. So it’s important for me to better understand what it means to involve a professional partner in the learning experience and to better define real-world experiences for myself and for my students.
Can you give us an example of a successful experiential learning engagement that you've coordinated/delivered?
I use an experiential framework for the courses I teach in web design and development, where I introduce students to a professional partner in need of a web presence for their project, business, or organization. The students work together to design the web site or application based on the problem that can be implemented by the partner. While I’ve seen varying degrees of success with that final step, implementation, the student’s interaction with the partner has offered skills that wouldn’t have surfaced without the partner. From these engagements, I have quickly seen that students learn best when connected to the real world, ask questions from people in the real world and build off that, in parallel with direction and guidance of an educator. The outcome goes beyond the completed website or project; Students leave with a sense of pride and newfound professionalism for accomplishing more than a grade.
Why do you use experiential learning?
I find that providing opportunities for students to engage with partners is empowering for them. They use their own knowledge base, problem-solving skills, and inquiry to strengthen their understanding of their field of study and what it means to be part of a professional exchange.
How do your students benefit from experiential learning?
They get to see how the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom impacts real-world challenges. It’s an experience that is more than learning a subject, but learning a subject and putting that learning into practice in real-time with partners whose expert knowledge guides the students along the way.
What's the most challenging part of being an #ExperientialEducator? (coordinating/delivering an experiential learning curriculum to students)
I believe that real-world experiences can impact classroom learning, but developing a solid framework for that experience and then achieving real-world fidelity is no easy task. This is what my team and I have been working towards in our research, as we strive to answer the question: “How do educators get projects to have a real impact on the real world?” We focus on how to effectively bring industry partners into the learning experience. One of our approaches has been to first implement the engagement between ourselves and the company partners, identify any missing components and explore how high stakes the collaboration can be. Then we bring it to the final phase: incorporating students.
What skills do your students use when engaged in experiential learning?
What’s great about experiential learning is that the students are able to use both the skills they are gaining in the classroom as well as skills from previous experiences. In my classroom, they are studying various strategies for web development while applying their insight from past design and development roles. It is this blend of knowledge that makes experiential learning so powerful.
What advice do you have for faculty and institutions considering experiential learning?
If you are not actively searching for ways to incorporate more cooperative and experiential learning opportunities into your course and programs, you should be. I would highly suggest that you work to incentivize faculty and academic leadership to pilot experiential learning programs. Find the people at your institution that are seeking ways to energize their practice and partner with to develop examples that can be shared throughout the school.