The Experiential Learning Initiative launched in the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) in fall 2015. We checked in with Ashley Kehoe, Associate Director for Experiential Learning and EdTech alumna, on DCAL’s progress since the launch, pilot project updates, priorities for the future, and opportunities to get involved.
EdTech Connection: Ashley, How would you describe experiential learning to our readers?
Ashley Kehoe: That’s the top question I’ve gotten since making the move into this position. In some ways, it’s challenging to answer, since there is no universally agreed upon definition of experiential learning in the field of higher education. There are theoretical and practical models - like Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory or Kuh’s High Impact Educational Practices - both of which we are drawing on in our initiative. In essence, experiential learning is a pedagogy with a wide-ranging subset of approaches within it, including service, research, internships/professional development, domestic and foreign immersion, outdoor leadership, entrepreneurial activity, and more. At the heart of experiential learning is the process of intentionally engaging in an experience, critically reflecting on that experience, and drawing connections between learning across contexts. At Dartmouth, we’re defining experiential learning as broadly and inclusively as possible to reflect this range and support experiential learning across the liberal arts, graduate, and professional school curricula. Instead of focusing on functional types of experiential learning, we’re focusing on impact, specifically create opportunities for students to develop their confidence and ability to 1) Innovate and take risks, 2) Solve complex problems, 3) Collaborate across difference, and 4) Think critically and reflect on learning. This can happen in any academic discipline or co-curricular program.
ETC: How did you get to those categories of impact?
AK: The first thing we did with this initiative was establish an assessment team to explore the known impacts of experiential learning. The team is comprised of presidential fellows, students, faculty and staff. The team includes: Morgan Matthews, Cindy Cogswell, Prue Merton, (DCAL); Karen Bieluch (ENVS); Petra Taylor (Thayer and EdTech); and Joshua Shoenbart ‘16. Assembled in fall 2015, the team conducted a literature review and met regularly to identify common themes in the research that align with our goals at Dartmouth. The exciting aspect of this model is that there are multiple ways of getting to each impact area. For example, “risk-taking” is a term that we throw around a lot at Dartmouth and in higher education broadly, but what does it actually mean? Based on the work of the assessment team to identify related competencies, it could mean self-efficacy, resolve, creativity, or another distinct capacity or competency that we’ve not yet identified. This presents an opportunity for us to contribute to research in this area and resource initiatives that demonstrate impact on student learning and development.
ETC: Can you share any examples of projects currently supported by the Experiential Learning Initiative?
AK: The best thing about doing this work at Dartmouth is that we have such a strong institutional tradition of and commitment to experiential learning. In advance of officially launching this initiative, we selected a series of pilot projects to support as a way to explore our resources and assessment strategies. The pilot projects are reflective of the range of experiential learning I described earlier, and include both academic and co-curricular models. To mention just a few of our pilot projects, we’ve supported:
The Dartmouth Vietnam Project: A co-curricular program that trains students in the art of oral history interviewing and connects students with Dartmouth alumni, faculty, staff, Upper Valley residents, and others with Dartmouth ties to conduct interviews and capture memories of the Vietnam War and the Vietnam War era. The ultimate goal of the DVP is the creation of an online oral history archive that is accessible to students and researchers.
Telling Stories for Social Change & Telling My Story on Campus: An academic course offered in AAAS, WGST, and MALS where students work directly with a local population in crisis while studying the effects of poverty, class structures, drug addiction, incarceration, and the issues facing people after treatment and/or imprisonment. The course culminates in an original performance that serves as a platform for collaborators' voices and discussing social issues. The co-curricular program, called Telling My Story On Campus, engages specific student groups in shared dialogue and community building through creative performance.
The HOP Curricular Connections Program: An initiative launched in fall 2015 to provide funding for students to attend HOP performances as part of their academic curriculum, as well as resources to faculty to develop more ambitious, intentional, and reflective curricular connections that will enhance teaching and learning and take advantage of HOP performances in new ways.
ETC: How can faculty and staff access resources or get involved in the initiative?
AK: We’re currently accepting proposals from faculty and staff to support both emerging and existing experiential learning initiatives, with a deadline of February 15. These can be academic courses, co-curricular programs, or a hybrid model. We will also be offering a series of winter and spring experiential learning workshops on topics like developing strong community partnerships, incorporating critical reflection strategies, and managing risk - so stay tuned for that series, coming to DCAL in March. Our next big priority is to create support structures for student-initiated experiential learning opportunities, which we hope to have in place by the start of the spring term.