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Experiential Education in the College Context: What it is, How it Works, and Why it Matters
Date Reviewed: March 4, 2016
Experiential Education in the College Context provides a useful introduction to both the theoretical underpinnings and the practical application of experiential education. Roberts, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Director of the Center for Integrated Learning at Earlham College, writes out of his experience as a faculty member, administrator, and philosopher of education. His volume is well-equipped as a guide for leaders in higher education interested in “harnessing the power of the live encounter between students and teachers” (xi).
Roberts divides the volume into two main sections, the first covering theoretical aspects of experiential education and the second exploring its practical facets. Each section is comprised of four chapters. Chapter one introduces the reader to the current educational landscape, noting that it is not merely a time of “disruption and destabilization,” but a time of “tremendous opportunity” (18). Chapter two defines experiential education, teasing out some of its many implications through three curriculum models. In chapter three, Roberts sorts experiential education models into “four core methodologies”: active learning, community-based learning, integrative learning, and problem and project-based learning (63). Chapter four identifies models such as the seat paradigm and the teacher as expert paradigm that educators should leave behind as they embrace an experiential approach. In chapters five through eight, Roberts shifts to the practical application of the theoretical principles discussed in the first half of the book. Chapter five considers design, chapter six facilitation, chapter seven assessment, and chapter eight the integration of experiential education in the college classroom and across the campus. Finally, the Afterword places experiential education in the wider world of the academy, and an Appendix offers a reference list for a variety of experiential education programs.
My one critique – and it is a small one – of Roberts’s work is that he quotes too many secondary scholars at length. Block quotes fill the pages and definitions abound. The volume would have been infinitely more accessible had he compiled the many definitions in a glossary in the back of the volume and confined his extensive dialogue with other scholars to the footnotes. Still, Roberts’s volume provides rich descriptions of the variety of practices that fit under the experiential education umbrella and offers useful examples for incorporating these models in the classroom. In short, the text offers a fine introductory resource.
Roberts wrote this book “for students who wish to learn more about the theoretical concepts behind the approach, for faculty who might be interested in what experiential education looks like in practice, and for administrators trying to respond programmatically and creatively to a rapidly changing landscape in higher education” (xi). While I am not convinced that many students will wade through its theoretical waters, the volume does address the needs of faculty and administrators investigating the possibilities that experiential education offers. I will carry Roberts’s image of “teachers as curators of experience” rather than “content providers” with me for a long time (81).
Linked Courses for General Education and Integrative Learning: A Guide for Faculty and Administrators
Date Reviewed: March 5, 2015
Linked Courses for General Education and Integrative Learning explores the use of linked courses to create learning communities for students. While the editors acknowledge a wide range of meanings for these terms and allow contributors to use their own definitions, they focus on “two courses linked across the curriculum” as the most common form of learning communities (ix). They suggest that such linked courses are important in engaging students with the “complexity and interdependence” of fields of knowledge. The book examines the use of linked courses at different institutions, strategies in implementing and assessing these courses, and the results and learning outcomes from these examples.
Instructors in religious studies and theology will likely find two of the chapters particularly useful although the examples of linked courses in other fields also offer suggestions for structures and strategies for linked courses. Chapter 2, “Linked Content Courses: A World Civilizations – World Religions Case Study,” by Jeffrey LaMonica, describes a pair of “bundled” courses at Delaware County Community College. The instructors linked the course competencies for the two courses and included several team-taught sessions throughout the term along with assignments that required an interdisciplinary focus. The instructors concluded that the linked structure increased student interest and enthusiasm which can be an important factor in retention. LaMonica also highlights how both courses contributed to common college competencies by reinforcing student learning and highlighting connections between fields.
Chapter 6, “Implementing a Linked Course Requirement in the Core Curriculum” by Margo Soven, describes the “Doubles” program at La Salle University which linked courses for first year students. These linked courses were offered across the curriculum and created a significant administrative challenge, especially when all first-year students were required to participate. Soven discusses many aspects of implementing these courses including staffing, scheduling, training, assessment, and administrative involvement. While there were positive outcomes for both students and faculty, the program was ultimately suspended due to its cost. The college has however attempted to apply the concept to first-year orientation and other programs. While this chapter does not focus specifically on religious studies and theology, its connection to the core curriculum may offer useful ideas for religious studies and theology instructors given the role these departments play in the core at many institutions.
The remaining chapters examine additional aspects of implementing linked courses. Some describe examples of pairing content courses with courses that focus on specific skills such as writing. Others focus on connections to first year experiences or residential learning communities. The final section addresses assessment strategies for linked courses and summarizes the outcomes at several institutions.
In one sense this book is most relevant for faculty at institutions which offer linked courses or are contemplating such programs. However, other readers may find these examples useful as illustrations of ways to make individual courses more interdisciplinary as well or develop team-taught courses or collaborations with other departments. Several of the chapters offer extensive references to further studies and general research in the field which will also be useful to many readers.