Providing Authentic Learning Experiences – Katherine Lithgow

ideas start hereThis past May, I had the great pleasure of presenting at Laurier’s Integrated and Engaged Learning Conference with Jill Tomasson Goodwin (Associate Professor -Faculty of Arts teaching in the Digital Arts Communication (DAC) specialization program; Scott O’Neill (Associate Director, Marketing and Communications within the Marketing and Undergraduate Recruitment (MUR)department and  Madhulika Saxena (a student in the W2014 DAC 300 course and a recent graduate from uWaterloo’s Arts & Business program).

We wanted to explore how we might bring high quality high impact practices (HQ HIPs) into the classroom.  Our presentation focused on DAC 300’s collaborative project that provided students with an authentic experiential learning opportunity where the students worked in teams to address an on-campus community partner’s real world need.  Our goal was to highlight how a course might embody the characteristics of HQ HIPs and what can be done in terms of course design and course delivery to make a course a high quality high impact practice. Using DAC 300 as an example, throughout the presentation, we provided ‘tips’ which we hope will help others incorporate high quality high impact learning opportunities into their classrooms.  

Experiential education has always been important in education, and it is of particular importance at uWaterloo.   We say it is in our DNA. We’re known for our co-op program; experiential learning is one of our Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations and our strategic plan promises ‘Experiential Education for All’.  We know that when done well, that is, where learning is “as much social as cognitive, as much concrete as abstract,” and emphasizes both judgment and exploration, experiential education helps students better absorb, retain and transfer knowledge (Lombardi, 2007)

So… what are the characteristics of a high quality high impact practice?

  1. Performance expectations set at appropriately high levels
  2. Significant investment of time and effort by students over an extended period of time
  3. Interactions with faculty and peers about substantive matters
  4. Experiences with diversity
  5. Frequent,timely and constructive feedback
  6. Periodic, structured opportunities to reflect and integrate learning
  7. Opportunities to discover relevance of learning through real-world applications
  8. Public demonstration of competence

(Kuh, G. D., O’Donnell, K., & Reed, S., 2013)

You can view our presentation here to see how these characteristics came to life in DAC 300.

A lot of things came together to make the DAC 300 course a great learning experience.  A couple that I want to highlight centre around 1) collaboration and 2) the impact on the instructor and students.

Experiential learning opportunities often bring students into meaningful contact with future employers, customers, clients, and colleagues. What struck me about the DAC 300 project was the extent to which Jill collaborated with an on-campus ‘community partner’ (Scott O’Neill and the MUR department) to provide her students with this real-world, relevant learning opportunity. In turn, Jill’s students collaborated together to provide MUR with a solution to address their real-world need. If we want to make more of these high impact practices available to our students, we will likely have to collaborate with campus partners -campus partners from writing centres, student affairs, living learning communities, residence life and librarians are just a few examples of who these campus partners might be. More important, the collaboration has to benefit all parties.

The role of the instructor often changes when you provide authentic learning experiences to your students. Prepare to learn along with your students.  Incorporating authentic learning experiences into your course can be disorienting and uncomfortable for you AND your students.  Your role shifts from ‘instructor’ to ‘coach’.  Students will come up with solutions or approaches that you have never thought of.  That can be a good thing, but it also means relinquishing a certain amount of control, being flexible, and adapting to circumstances- just as we do in the real world.

Jill Tomasson Goodwin has kindly created and shared these 6-Tips-and-10-Tricks-to-Facilitate-Classroom-based-Experiential-Learning. Jill encourages you to adapt them to your needs and invites you to email her (jtomasso@uwaterloo.ca)   to chat with her further about how these choices worked in practice.

DAC 300 is a 12-week reflexive theoretically-informed, practice-based course in User Experience Design (the art of understanding, designing, and creating an ‘end-to-end’ experience of technology for users).  The course design choices are based on a very real-world application of knowledge — facilitated inside, and tested outside, the classroom, for an actual client, with a pressing need.

During the W2014 offering, Professor Jill Tomasson Goodwin and her third-year Digital Arts Communication class consulted with UWaterloo’s MUR department to design an augmented reality version of a tour brochure. To complete the project, teams of undergraduate students drew upon their knowledge of user experience design, interviewed high school students, and then iteratively prototyped a range of augmented reality experiences, all designed to engage and inform students as they visit and explore the campus. The project and technology have been so successful that UW will use augmented reality to enhance other recruitment publications.

Resources

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are. Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter.  Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). Excerpt from “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter”. Association of American Colleges and Universities. https://www.aacu.org/leap/hip.cfm

Kuh, G. D., O’Donnell, K., & Reed, S. (2013). Ensuring quality and taking high-impact practices to scale . Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Lombardi, M. M. (2007). Authentic learning for the 21st century: An overview. Educause learning initiative,1(2007), 1-12. http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/authentic-learning-21st-century-overview

Integrative and Applied Learning Value Rubric (AAC&U) http://www.aacu.org/value/rubrics/integrativelearning.cfm

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Katherine Lithgow

Katherine Lithgow

As Senior Instructional Developer, Integrative Learning, Katherine Lithgow facilitates ePortfolio and Integrative Learning initiatives, supporting instructors across campus with the design and implementation of activities that help students integrate learning in academic, workplace, community and social environments. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Katherine taught Cytology at The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences. She received her BA from the University of Toronto, and a Master’s in Educational Technology from UBC. In what seems like another life, Katherine worked as a cytotechnologist graduating from TMI’s Cytology program.