Experiential Learning in H&S

A Framework for Experiential Learning in H&S

The Experiential Learning Committee defines experiential learning as "a pedagogy that gives students a sustained opportunity to take knowledge learned in the classroom out into the world, and challenges them to apply that knowledge, engage with diverse audiences, and reflect on the personal and professional significance of these experiences. Specifically, students apply disciplinary skills to problems that don’t always have predictable outcomes, receive consistent faculty mentoring, and participate in ongoing reflection about what they are learning. Student responsibility moves beyond a course grade, such that the outcomes of these experiences have a life outside the context of the course." (From the Report and Recommendations on Experiential Learning in H&S, January 2011)

This definition identifies five key criteria that together insure that a course as providing a quality experiential learning opportunity for students:

  • Disciplinary Skills are Applied and Practiced
  • Faculty Mentoring is Consistent
  • Learning is Purposeful and Measurable
  • Reflection is a Key Component
  • Student Responsibility Moves Beyond a Course Grade

The Experiential Learning Committee has identified four different models of experiential learning that are currently being offered. There is clearly overlap across these models; the goal of identifying different models is not to try to pigeon-hole every activity that faculty and students undertake together, but to demonstrate that there are multiple models for how to implement opportunities with the criteria outlined above. The Committee has developed an H&S Experiential Learning Course Listing that identifies courses that H&S faculty offer that fit each model. Rubrics for designing effective courses in each of these models can be found in the relevant sections listed in the menu to the left. Faculty interested in having their courses included in this listing can complete the Experiential Learning Course Listing Application.

  • Cultural Immersion: In these opportunities, students extend their classroom knowledge through continuous and substantial immersion in a target environment with structured reflection. These experiences are not just "field trips" or "travel," but provide opportunities for the synthesis of theory and practice by offering students the chance to perform the curriculum in the field. Examples include course-based engagement with another culture, and language students who spend a semester abroad further developing their oral, written, and comprehension skills by interacting with native speakers in the relevant cultural context.
  • Professional Practice: In these learning opportunities, students get practical experience in situations that help them to develop their career preparation and interests. These opportunities give students the experience they need to take their professional skills to the next level, and also can provide them with important networking contacts to support their transition from school to work. Examples include internships in businesses or non-profit organizations, artistic performances, and participation in course-based simulations that mimic real-world contexts.
  • Service Learning/Civic Engagement: In these opportunities, students work with a local community group or non-profit organization to provide a necessary service by putting academic knowledge to work for the community.  Supporting social justice goals and working towards social change are integrated with professional development and intellectual growth. This is not just “volunteering,” but collaborating on an equal footing with community partners. Examples include Grant Writing students producing funding proposals for community partners, and environmental science students developing sustainability practices with local businesses.
  • Undergraduate Research: In these opportunities, students have the chance to put knowledge, skills, and theories learned in the classroom to work in real research contexts.  Students use systematic methods to make intellectual contributions to a field, which culminates in a public presentation of their research results. Examples include working alongside a faculty member in a laboratory, going out into the community to conduct a research project, or gathering data in archives.


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