University pushes experiential education by offering ‘Conversations with Colleagues’

Suzi Starheim

Students may not get hands-on experience in most college courses, but members of the Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement are trying to make it a more common part of the Kent State curriculum.

Experiential education “allows students to explore that connection (between coursework and real-life applications) and gain some better perspective about what it means for them in terms of their academic and professional preparation,” said Tina Kandakai, coordinator of OEECE.

For the benefit of students, the OEECE is trying to demonstrate how faculty members are incorporating experiential education into their courses. Through a series of talks called “Conversations with Colleagues,” faculty members have the opportunity to discuss the importance of this relatively new type of learning.

Experiential education is student-centered, “engaged” learning outside the classroom. The work is done primarily through non-profit organizations so that the organization gains assistance while the student gains experience, Kandakai said.

“There must be a very strong and direct connection between the course objectives and the service or experience that the students have within those organizations,” Kandakai said.

Because experiential education is a relatively new topic, many faculty members don’t know much about it, Kandakai said.

“People just aren’t real sure about what’s happening here on our campus with experiential education,” Kandakai said. “There is some uncertainty and unclarity as to which faculty are using it as a teaching pedagogy and how frequently they are using it.”

Joanne Caniglia, associate professor in the School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies, said there are several goals associated with experiential learning.

The first is to make faculty aware of the OEECE and its services. A second goal is to help students and the OEECE establish a stronger relationship with the community.

Kandakai said another purpose of “Conversations with Colleagues” is to give each student a valuable learning experience.

“What I would like to see is most, if not all, students exposed to experiential education throughout their curriculum,” Kandakai said. “I think it’s an extremely critical piece of learning for students in terms of their academic and professional success.”

Kandakai said “Conversations with Colleagues” is a great opportunity to get faculty together to talk about how they are applying this type of learning to their courses.

“The goal is to schedule these conversations within different units across campus,” Kandakai said. “The hope is that we can encourage faculty to come out of their boxes within their own unit and integrate and discuss these issues with other faculty that they normally would not.”

Prior to the first conversations, particular faculty members were selected to speak at “Conversations with Colleagues.”

Selecting the faculty to speak at these sessions involved an interview process to see who has integrated experiential education into coursework. The next step was to look at referrals.

“It was useful for us in gaining some perspectives about where there may be some difficulties for faculty in incorporating this,” Kandakai said, “and our goal is to gain some perspective about that so we can better aid and assist them in incorporating experiential education if that’s what they want to do.”

The first two conversations took place Jan. 21 and Jan. 25. Caniglia said even if faculty miss a few sessions, they can still attend others without being behind in information.

“Each session is not the same. It’s not a series,” she said. “They are mutually exclusive in that if you do not attend one, you can attend another.”

Kandakai said so far, attendance has been growing and she hopes to see more faculty attending from regional campuses.


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Contact academics reporter Suzi Starheim at [email protected].