Friday, November 14, 2014

unCon 2014 Session: Experiential Learning

By: Sterling Dintersmith

For the past century, school has been taught in the same way. The experiences of the teacher are transferred via lectures to students. But what if it was flipped around, and the students were having the experiences, and the teachers simply guided them? Nicole DeSantis and Remy Carpinito of CampusTap led an experiential learning discussion today where they presented the idea that maybe the best learning can come from experiences and that this method can be applied inside and outside the classroom.

Everyone agreed that inside K-12 classrooms, kids given more freedom to design their own projects and follow their own ideas would be more motivated and would learn more. However, one teacher mentioned that proctoring this kind of learning can be exhausting, and because of this many teachers end up letting textbooks and worksheets take over. Additionally, teachers are often uncomfortable with open-ended projects, because they symbolize a lack of control in the classroom. So, while we know what’s really best for students and how to apply it, that type of experiential learning is unlikely to become a widespread reality in the near future purely due to the amount of effort it takes and the longstanding tradition of lecture based teaching.

As a group, we decided to address the problem that if the curriculum of schools is not evolving with technology, students are not building the necessary skills in school. Around this problem, we developed several ways that students could gain that experience outside of the classroom. Gap years are often named as good times to gain experience and figure out what you really want to do. Of discussion member mentioned a possible creation of an experiential learning program between high school and college, backed by innovative startups. Another possibility for a student looking to gain experience 21st century skills before college could be trying different fields of entry-level positions, which don’t require a degree, in order to know what they when going to college.

With experiential learning a secondary roadblock is the lack of clear accreditation. It’s harder to put a letter grade or degree on an experience like you can with a standardized test, but what can show is a portfolio. Some group members argued that accomplishments speak even louder than a degree, and emphasize that someone is a problem solver and creative thinker. In some fields, such as programming, a degree from even the most selective college won’t earn a job without some kind of digital portfolio.

If the education system can over come high standards of accreditation and classroom strictness, experiential education would provide more productive and motivated students who are prepared to take on challenges in today’s innovated world. 

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