In higher education, experiential learning takes a variety of forms, whether it is fieldwork, research, internships, student teaching or service learning. Experiential learning is having the chance to put into practice what you have been taught in the classroom, said Ryan Bell, the director of experiential learning and community engagement at the University of New Orleans.
“It’s hands-on learning,” Bell said. “It helps build the cognitive link that students need between classroom lessons and real-world applications. They can take the things that they are learning via a lecture and be given the opportunity to see how those lessons are going to be used in the real world,” Bell said.
Since the turn of the 20th century, it’s been understood in educational scholarship that “learning by doing” is one of the best ways to teach people if you want them to remember and build on it, Bell said.
While many degree programs at UNO already offer some form of experiential learning, Bell said the goal of her office, which was created in 2019, is to broaden and expand those course offerings regardless of disciplines.
“Our main intention or goal is to increase the number or impact of experiential learning opportunities for all students no matter what their major is,” Bell said. “Experiential learning fits naturally into a lot of disciplines like earth and environmental sciences, anthropology, music, and film … what we aim to do is grow it so regardless of your major you’re going to have a healthy number of hours of experiential learning that is just part of your curriculum.”
This semester, Bell’s office is offering a workshop series for faculty who are interested in including an experiential project in one of their existing courses. The “Re-energizing Teaching: From Content to Essential Skills” is based on feedback from faculty members, Bell said.
The point of the workshop series is to give faculty an opportunity to speak to experts about experiential learning, and how to build a project specifically for a course they are already teaching, Bell said.
“There’s a lot of research nationwide about faculty just being tired of teaching the same courses over and over and when they are given the resources and support to create experiential projects for those courses it just gets them excited again about teaching,” Bell said. “Like all of us, they are stretched really thin and we’d like to help them see their job in a new light.”
The workshop is scheduled for May. The application deadline is March 31.
“By the end of the five-part series, they will have a completely revamped syllabus to include an experiential learning project of some kind,” Bell said. “So they are learning about high-impact practices, how to implement them and actually sitting down with high-impact experts and looking at a syllabus and building it so they will have a fresh new one ready to go when they want to schedule it.”