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CASTLE receives grant to work across campuses to assess experiential learning


experiential learning

April 2, 2018

By Marisa A. Dietrich

With over 160,000 students, 8,000 professors, and researchers from over 10 institutions, the Colonial Academic Alliance (CAA) influences athletics as well as interdisciplinary, innovative research. The Innovative/Collaborative (IN/CO) Grant Program is a new research initiative launched in 2017 that is designed to address pressing policy challenges in higher education, fuel collaboration between institutions, enhance institutional excellence, and promote innovation in intellectual inquiry. The IN/CO program creates an opportunity for teams of faculty and staff from CAA member institutions to collaborate, with support from grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 per year.

This project seeks to track experiential learning outcomes across the three partner campuses. In its first round of funding, Drexel University, in partnership with the College of Charleston and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, received $40,000 over a two-year period for a research project titled: Tracking Experiential Learning Outcomes Across Three CAA Campuses."

“Collaborating with two CAA partners from diverse institutions brings the broad experience and perspective to the IN/CO project design and the pilots we will conduct,” notes N. John DiNardo, Special Advisor to the Provost and CASTLE Faculty Fellow. “Opportunities for such cross-institution collaborations are seldom possible.  Further, the opportunity to expand the pilot across other CAA institutions will be vital to eventually rolling the instrument out nationwide,” he adds.

Defining Experiential Learning:
Experiential learning differs from lecture-based learning (which has the objective of information assimilation) in that students are encouraged to connect theory to practice, preparing them for real-world work experience—and for productive lives in general. An experiential learning approach provides that necessary bridge connecting theory and practice.  Students at Drexel have many experiential opportunities – from participation in Drexel’s hallmark co-op program, to civic engagement, study abroad, and undergraduate research.

Tracking Experiential Learning Outcomes:

Drexel joins a multi-disciplinary team of faculty and staff at the College of Charleston and UNC-Wilmington to develop an innovative tool to assess the impact of experiential and applied learning across multiple experiences and campuses.

The three schools are working together on the development of a single validated tool to collect data across a wide variety of experiential learning activities. This initiative will also establish a centralized hub of data that will grow over time, allowing deeper understanding of experiential learning outcomes in education.

“The project is interesting because we are aiming to develop a tool to look across the breadth of experiential learning,” observes Eric Brewe, Associate Professor of Physics and Science Education with the College of Arts and Sciences. “This requires us to think about how experiential learning is in part the thing that you are doing and in part the experiences you have while doing it. In this way, we are thinking about how learning happens through participation, which is challenging and unique.”

“Multisite longitudinal educational studies are challenging because each institution has a unique educational structure, experiential opportunities, and data systems,” adds William Mongan, Teaching Professor and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Affairs with the Department of Computer Science. “By collaborating on these challenges, we enable the study of educational effectiveness through experiential learning spanning the disciplines across several institutions. That study will identify best practices and inform effective development of our curricula.”

Moving the Needle Forward on Experiential Learning at Drexel University
The effort to build this tool is part of a broad data-driven initiative at Drexel University, with funding made available through the Office of the Provost’s Drexel Areas of Research Initiative (DARE). This project, Experiential Learning through the Cooperative Education Lifecycle” (DARE ExCEL) strives to enhance teaching and learning through experiential engagement by integrating co-operative education, classroom learning, and on-campus research opportunities. “We believe that this project will allow us to refocus how we talk about and engage in experiential education and will guide us in how we create model cross-institutional collaborations in pedagogy research,” says DiNardo.

About the CAA:

The Colonial Academic Alliance facilitates collaboration and communication across its 10 member institutions. Its purpose is to engage faculty, staff, and students in meaningful initiatives that challenge the status quo, enrich the academic environment, and advance student success. “The CAA institutions are known for strong undergraduate education, offering innovative curricula across a range of disciplines with a wide range of experiential education offerings,” DiNardo explains.

Alliance members include the College of Charleston, University of Delaware, Drexel University, Elon University, Hofstra University, James Madison University, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Northeastern University, Towson University, and the College of William & Mary.