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DARE to Grow: CASTLE’s Expansion of the Experiential Learning through the Cooperative Education Lifecycle (ExCEL) DARE Project

March 19, 2019

By: Alyssa Martin, N. John DiNardo, Jennifer Stanford

The mission of the Center for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning Excellence (CASTLE) is to affect institutional change in STEM teaching and learning across the educational spectrum, from Kindergarten through faculty development, by conducting, catalyzing, and supporting fundamental research and practice.  One of CASTLE’s strategic priorities is to create transformational innovation pathways for STEM education through a focus on mentored experiential and inquiry-based education.  To address this priority, CASTLE uses interdisciplinary research to understand effective approaches to teaching, pilot new pedagogies, and develop and validate new assessment instruments.

In 2016, Adam Fontecchio (College of Engineering, CASTLE), Jason Silverman (School of Education, CASTLE), Jennifer Stanford (College of Arts and Sciences, CASTLE), Pramod Abichandani (Lebow College of Business), Kapil Dandekar (College of Engineering), David Goldberg (College of Arts and Sciences), Antonios Kontsos (College of Engineering), William Mongan (College of Computing and Informatics), Suzanne Rocheleau (Pennoni Honors College), and Brian Smith (School of Education) were awarded funding through the Office of the Provost’s DARE initiative for the Experiential Learning through the Cooperative Education Lifecycle (ExCEL) project. This team expanded throughout the course of the project to include Robert Asante (Corporate Compliance and Privacy), Eric Brewe (College of Arts & Sciences), N. John DiNardo (CASTLE Faculty Fellow, College of Arts & Sciences), Paul Harrington (School of Education), Lynne Hickle (Steinbright Career Development Center), Alyssa Martin (CASTLE), and Tim Siftar (Drexel Libraries).

The ExCEL project focused on using an interdisciplinary research approach to study experiential learning. The team thinks about experiential broadly as opportunities for students to learn by engaging actively in opportunities that are designed to allow them to apply their knowledge and practice skills.  There are many learning opportunities that could be considered experiential, including: cooperative education, research, performance and creative activities, study abroad, and field work.  Understanding how these experiences affect student achievement outcomes and the core elements that make these experiences effective to promote learning is critical for developing effective models for experiential learning that are scalable and transferrable to other contexts.  To date, the team has worked to systematically collect and store existing data on experiential learning at Drexel; presented their work on the project at an invited talk at the SXSW EDU conference; and developed a new survey tool to assess experiential learning.  The team continues to work towards answering broad research questions about the effectiveness of experiential learning and best practices towards the development of models of experiential learning that have national impact.

Leveraging the DARE award and following a Drexel-sponsored Colonial Academic Alliance (CAA)* Pedagogy Summit on Experiential Learning, CASTLE and its collaborators received support from the CAA Innovate/Collaborate (IN/CO) Grant Program for multi-institutional tracking  of experiential learning outcomes across three CAA campuses including, Drexel University, University of North Carolina Wilmington and University of Charleston in 2017 (  The “Tracking Experiential Learning Outcomes Across Three CAA Campuses” award supports the development of a validated assessment instrument to collect data across a wide variety of experiential learning activities for eventual national dissemination.  Prior to this work, no single instrument existed to study and compare different experiential learning opportunities and identify common and unique outcomes that students may gain from these experiences. This instrument will allow for rigorous study of experiential learning across a wide variety of experiences within and across campuses to contribute to a deeper understanding of experiential learning outcomes in higher education.

In 2019, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations awarded Jennifer Stanford, Adam Fontecchio, Jason Silverman, Bill Mongan, and Eric Brewe with funding to sustain and expand this ongoing initiative. The “Research on Experiential STEM Curricula for Authentic Learning Experiences” (RESCALE) award will support the iterative process of validation of the experiential learning assessment tool under development, data collection using this tool, and the creation and implementation of professional development activities to promote effective use of experiential learning activities that can enhance student learning and success.

* The CAA is composed of the Chief Academic Officers of the Colonial Athletic Alliance schools