Experience and education

Last week, I was privileged to talk with an exceptional faculty member over lunch. He was excited about the work his students were doing in the community as part of their course work, engaging in service, networking, and applying the principles learning in class to the world of work. Our conversation could have been lifted right out of John Dewey’s Experience and Education, a book written in 1938 (if I remember my dates correctly from the time spent reading Dewey’s publications).

The premise is fairly straight forward: Knowledge is constructed through experience and if you engage students in applying what they are learning in the classroom, the result is a much steeper learning curve. The walls of the classroom extend into the community, and keeping students confined within the classroom will limit intellectual growth (positive progress).

It was refreshing to have a conversation around that premise with someone outside of the College of Education.

This brings me to a couple of questions…

With concerns related to the lack of measurable learning outcomes in higher education, low retention rates among a large portion of the student population, and graduation rates that are far below what most people believe they should be…could the most important answer to those concerns simply be the engagement of students in early and ongoing field experiences where they directly apply their classroom ‘learning’ to the world in which they live and work?

Could it be that required field experiences (service learning, practicums, internships) in every academic program impact student learning more than anything else we do as a university to engage students and help them create a successful future?

Are we willing to engage in this conversation as a campus community?

If we do, and agree that it is something we should do, do we have the courage to make it happen?

Food for thought…