Creating Powerful Learning Environments: Beyond the Classroom

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of North Texas]On: 13 November 2014, At: 05:39Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Creating Powerful Learning Environments: Beyondthe ClassroomJeanne S. SteffesPublished online: 25 Mar 2010.

    To cite this article: Jeanne S. Steffes (2004) Creating Powerful Learning Environments: Beyond the Classroom ,Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 36:3, 46-50, DOI: 10.1080/00091380409605580

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  • ince the last decades of the 20th century, the teaching and learning environment at colleges and universities has been expanding significantly beyond the standard space-bound classroom. In addition to online and dis- tance learning opportunities, many students have taken part in structured experiential learning that has given them opportunities to test the academic foundations and s knowledge they are exposed to in class settings well be-

    yond the walls of the classroom. The emerging education sites are often not on campus at all.

    Students involvement in undergraduate research, internships, and service learning has expanded tremendously in recent years, as has been documented by many studies. Many of the groups of instructors involved are not part of any formal facul- ty, hut they serve to complement campus-based professors and strengthen students educational development all the same.

    Non-traditional educational experiences connect students cognitive learning inside the classroom with their affective learning in the lab, on the job, or at the service learning site. The instructors and mentors involved begin to shape or en- hance young adults sense of professionalism in their fields well before they leave the campus.

    A young finance and marketing major can get experience in :in nccounting firm to see if that major truly matches her career goals and whether she feels comfortable in the organizational structure. A biology major interested in attending medical school can secure an internship in the emergency room of a lo- cal hospital to make sure that medicine is the best fit for his ca- reer goals and the next 10 years of his life.

    search into practice during such non-traditional educational activities, something that even the most intense study in the classroom cannot easily convey.

    Our systematic processes too often stop at the acquisition of knowledge. The much harder and more meaningful process is to facilitate understanding and wisdom, leading to.. .in- torinetl thought and action, Susan Komives has said. Part of our role as a teaching community is to help students inhabit the gap between knowledge and practice, she adds. Many institu- tions have tried a variety of approaches to do that, includmg a program at my institution, the University of Maryland, called the Beyond the Classroom Living & Learning Program (BTC).

    Our program is a partnership involving Marylands Divi- hion of Undergraduate Studies, Student Affairs, and a private housing-management firm. The programs focus is to assist ju- niors and seniors to obtain significant research, internship, or service learning experiences on campus and in the greater Washington. D.C. area. Recent venues have included a local classic rock radio station, the Smithsonian Institution, the Na- tional Aeronautics and Space Administration, soup kitchens, and the local ASPCA pet shelter.

    The goal of this practicum is to engage students in the real world. including civic life, to advance their professional and personal development. Onsite supervisors guide the students through the practicum, and there is a corresponding course

    . /eot i t ie S. Styfj?s is tlir director of the Beyond the Classroom Living d; Lrwrning Progmm ut the University of Maryland. She is also the prr~.~itIetit r!fthr Americon College Personnel Association (ACPA). Slw lNt1 he reirched ( i t jstefes@utncl.edu

    Students can learn to translate knowledge into action or re-

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    taught by on-campus faculty or staff members that is parallel to the semester-long activity. Unlike some other programs, the students in our program live together in a building owned and operated by the management company, which has co-sponsored educational and social programs with the BTC program.

    HISTORICAL CONTEXT Onsite training grounds for new workers or young crafts-

    men are not a new or novel idea. The craft professions have routinely used the learn by doing method for centuries, through apprenticeships and journeyman certification, to pass their expertise from one generation of workers to another. What sets the learn by doing experiences or experiential learning apart in higher education is the goal of having stu- dents observe and reflect on their current actions in order to formulate future practice.

    Early in the 20th century, John Dewey, among others. launched the principles of experiential education as an estab- lished pedagogy, David A. Kolb in 1984 outlined an experien- tial learning model including four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of ah- stract concepts, and testing in new situations. Kolb wrote that the learning process often begins with a person carrying out an action and seeing the effects of the action; the second step is to understand the effects of the action. The third step is to under- stand the action, and the last step is to modify the action b wen a new situation.

    Kolbs Experiential Learning Model is used today as one of the standards to support the use of learning through expe- rience outside the traditional classroom. This model pro- vides a powerful framework, for example, to help a student explain and describe, both cognitively and affectively. his lived experience working in a soup kitchen versus reading about a soup kitchen in class. Other models also have proved useful on some campuses.

    RESEARCH While professional academic research includes systematic

    investigation, model testing, and development of genernlize- CHANGE*MAY/JLINI 2004

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  • able knowledge, at the undergraduate level at the University of Maryland, undergraduate research is defined simply as the process of creating new knowledge.

    I Jndergraduate research exists along a continuum from ap- pientice (knowing little, experiencing a piece of the whole, miniinal contributions) to research partner (the undergraduate \tudent performs more along the lines of a colleague or gradu- ile \tudcnt; she or he can see the whole picture and contributes niuch to thc outcome, perhaps even publishing with one or more faculty members).

    Wherever a student is along the continuum, providing stu- Llrnt\ with the opportunities to engage in the process of inquiry ha\ benefits lar beyond the practical. Such experiences can, among other things, attract students to graduate school through c l l4NCir M A Y / J U N ~ ZOO4

    increasing their enthusiasm for research; encourage under- graduates to view education as more relevant for their future lives; and help minority or non-traditional students to identify more closely with the institution.

    But perhaps the most striking piece of data on the impacc of undergraduate research comes from the University of Michigans Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. African American undergraduates in the program had a 5 I percent lower attrition rate than a control group, according to a 1995 report by John Jonides.

    Our Beyond the Classroom programs seminar on re- search experiences was set up similar to a graduate semi- nar, allowing students the opportunity to reflect on their breakthroughs, fears, and frustrations during the research

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  • process. The twofold objective of the course was to assist students in understanding the culture of research, as well as to help them understand the rights and feelings of re- search subjects.

    Students consider the research process itself, ethical issues in research, how research funds are obtained, and analyze who benefits from research. Some of students recent research in- cluded working with a faculty member involved in the excava- tion and DNA-typing of bodies found in the African Burial Ground Project in lower Manhattan; studying Shakespearean theater architecture in a university archives; and studying the wng patterns of crickets in a campus biology laboratory.

    To extend this vision, we need to help more faculty mem- bers expand their definitions of research, identify connections for curricular-based research opportunities, and provide expe- riences that are developmentally appropriate for our students. Sharing practices among disciplines will help this happen. While many faculty members believe that only graduate stu- dents can engage in research that is meaningful to them, a pro- grain at Maryland for first-year chemistry students, for example, provides them the opportunity to solidify their com- mitment to the discipline and become valuable research assis- tants while still undergraduates.

    This kind of model can be replicated in other disciplines with faculty members willing to make the strong commitment to the undergraduate research process. The mentoring of these first-year students is time consuming, but one faculty member whose laboratory is filled with undergraduate researchers said, Getting students excited early on in research gets me excited about my own research. They are so eager and they ask really good questions.

    This faculty member spoke like a proud parent when he went on to list some of the accomplishments of his students since their experience in his lab: college honors theses, ad- vanced research projects, and enrollments in masters and doc- toral degree programs.

    INTERNSHIPS While undergraduate research is still far from the norm on

    many campuses, a more traditional area of experiential educa- tion also continues to grow. According to a 2001 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, more than 93 percent of respondents said that their institutions offered in- ternship programs.

    In the survey, employers indicated that they often eventual- ly hired those interns for full-time jobs. Internships continue to be a major source of experiential learning on both large cam- puses and small ones. The University of Maryland Career Center posts more than 1,500 internships on its Web site each year, and the numbers are increasing, says Mark Kenyon, pro- gram coordinator of Experiential Learning.

    At the other end of the size spectrum, Messiah College also has seen an increase in the numbers of students looking for in- ternships during the past several years, says Michael True, di- rector of the Internship Center at Messiah, and increasing numbers of faculty members there have begun to require an in- ternship to help students expand their learning experiences.

    Internships, of course, help students determine if they are 48

    pursuing a career path appropriate to their actual skills and interests, as well as providing them the chance to explore some different settings. Credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing academic courses are offered at many campuses to help make meaning out of the internship experience.

    Many of the courses are specific to distinct academic ma- jors, but some of the courses are broader in scope. The Semi- nar in Internship Experience course at the University of Maryland, for example, includes material on a wide variety of topics that help prepare students to become more comfortable with the corporate or business culture. Some of these topics in- clude how to look for a mentor or coach; the importance of networking; sexual harassment; diversity and what i t means; and values and ethics in the workplace.

    Some studies suggest that an internship helps make valu- able connections for life after college. A work-to-job connec- tion study by C.M. Jagacinski and colleagues in 1986 found that new college graduates whose internship positions were re- lated to their course of study were employed earlier, had sip- nificantly higher levels of responsibility, were paid more, and were more satisfied in their current work positions than those with no related internship experience.

    SERVICE LEARNING Another form of beyond-the-classroom educational experi-

    ence for students has exploded recently-service learning. The past several years have seen an increase in the number of ser- vice learning opportunities; an increase in service learning classes taught on campus; and growing campus support for faculty members involvement in service learning.

    long way from the center of the academic center stage in high- er education, but it is moving in that direction with increasing speed. A 2000 survey on service learning by Campus Coin- pact found that students at colleges and universities belonging to Campus Compact performed a total of 17 million hours of service. The total number of students participating in service rose from 688,000 in 1999 to 7 12,000 in 2000, an increase of 24,000 students in one year.

    As Adrianna J. Kezar noted in 2002, Servic...

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