One of the greatest gifts of working with students is the opportunity to witness “aha” moments. When students connect with course material in meaningful and transformative ways, we see the magic. However, even though we seek to cultivate those experiences regularly, truly transformational moments may not happen as frequently as we would like. Experiential education may offer a solution.
According to Dr. Joseph Aoun, in his book Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, “Truly transformative learning results are the product of integrating academic and real-world experiences” (125). Aoun discusses the process of students learning new material, putting that information together with prior knowledge, and then applying their knowledge within a real life context to test their understanding and develop competency. This process echoes that described by Dr. David Kolb in providing students an opportunity to contextualize and test their own learning with the goal “to remove the boundaries between the classroom and real life, creating a constant, multidimensional learning ecosystem” (Aoun 80). In this way, students are more versed in the content but also better prepared for life-long learning and for the adaptability that will be required of them as aspects of our society become more automated and humanity is pushed to coexist in new ways with robots that make take over more perfunctory or transactional roles.
How can we integrate experiential education?
Aoun states that “students engage in experiential learning through internships, co-ops, work-study jobs, global experiences, and original research opportunities” (81). As president of Northeastern University, Aoun states that their students typically begin these experiences in their second year of studies so that this early learning informs the more specialized learning that happens in higher levels of coursework.
At GCC, we are fortunate to offer work-study positions and internships to students, but perhaps we could be better about intentionally plugging students into those opportunities. As instructors, if our coursework could be further illuminated through these sorts of experiences, we should refer our students to these opportunities. For example, students who are interested in marketing might gain valuable experience through an internship in a non-profit organization, or student may gain technical writing proficiency through opportunities offered in a work-study position.
Another example that affords students a variety of opportunities to apply what they are learning in a tangible way at GCC is the Veterans Heritage Project. Through this project, students interview a veteran to get a first-hand understanding of the lessons learned through service. The students then write up the interview, collect photos, and prepare the story for publication. Additional students contribute historical summaries and artwork, both drawing and photography, to the publication, and still other students manage layout, design, editing, etc. This project is just one example of an on-campus endeavor that affords students the opportunity to utilize many of the skills that they are developing through their coursework thereby bringing learning to life through an experiential and practical application that illustrates the significance and value of the classroom learning.
In fact, many of our amazing faculty members have facilitated opportunities for students capitalize on a variety of global experiences, and both faculty and staff at GCC work to connect students to GCC and MCCCD study abroad opportunities. If you are interested in exploring those options further, please reach out to the CTLE, and we would be happy to facilitate connections with individuals who can share more.
Finally, offering original research opportunities is something that many of our GCC departments have firmly embedded in their instructional approach, helping students understand that “the answers we get are only as meaningful as the questions we frame” (Aoun 58).
Experiential education may push us outside our comfort zones in challenging us to identify those real-life application opportunities for learning, but we are fortunate to have some among us who have already forged that path and are willing to collaborate with us to expand the opportunities we can provide our students. The CTLE can help connect you with these individuals, so please let us know if you are interested in learning more. As Aoun notes, it is incumbent upon us to lead students through these experiences to help them make sense of their classroom learning for “if the lessons are frozen in the classroom environment, they lose immediacy” (75).
Experiential education helps students “develop a better understanding of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and their drives and possibilities. They also sharpen their cognitive capacities, leading to the robot-proof qualities of creativity and mental flexibility” (Aoun 87). Aren’t these goals that we are all seeking to achieve?