BYU’s Experiential Learning Summit teaches professors how to help students gain real world experience

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BYU kicked off the first Experiential Learning Summit event of the school year on Sept. 11. The summit helps faculty develop best practices for experiential learning with their students.

The university has partnered with the LX Consortium to host the 2020 Experiential Learning Summit Series. On the second Friday of each month — September 2020 to April 2021 — conversations, presentations and panels will be held over Zoom. Topics will be current issues affecting experiential learning, according to the experiential learning website.

The summit began in 2019 and provides a forum for faculty and staff to share their experiential learning practices and learn from specialists in the field, a statement on the website said. 

David Waddell, Director of Experiential Learning & Internships, described experiential learning as “an application of President Worthen’s Inspiring Learning initiative.”

He said experiential learning involves applying the skills students learn in the classroom to different and new environments. For example, one could apply what they learned in math class to solving a social problem. Experiential learning teaches students to choose experiences with intention.

BYU Experiential Learning & Internships can help students who are interested in internships, mentored projects, research and study abroad opportunities, Waddell explained.

Waddell said last year’s summit showed “faculty are really anxious to help students.” 

The summit topic for Sept. 11 was “Enhancing the Student Experience for Long-Term Career Success” and the focus of the 11 a.m. Zoom meeting was on managing student teams.

One way to manage is by engaging students. Ali Crandall, BYU professor of public health, explained how she assigns meaningful tasks. “Both in my classes and in my research settings, I try to make sure we have small enough teams so that every student feels needed and that they all have a specific assignment or task to work on.”

Another way to manage student teams is through planning and accountability. Arline MacCormack, Associate Director of Experiential Programs at Babson College, also spoke at the meeting. She said she has her students create team charters at the start of the semester. 

She also has her students do peer evaluations and follows up with them. She said this helps make sure teams are “addressing any challenges or any conflicts right from the beginning of the semester and keeping lines of communication open.” 

Kirsten Novilla, a junior at BYU, is a research assistant for Crandall. She also talked about how proper communication can help student teams complete projects and explained the “reply all” concept. “Those who need to know, should know. When you’re sending an email, send it to all.”

Another way educators can manage teams is having students create a vision. “I’ve seen that when a student understands the bigger picture … the more likely they are to work better in teams and stay engaged,” Novilla said.

BYU psychology professor Scott Steffensen explained how educators can manage large groups by sharing the mentoring load with graduate students. “Because I handle so many students, there has to be a hierarchy. It wouldn’t work if I had to work with everybody.”

Despite the challenges, Steffensen said, “The reward is that you influence a lot of students. We have the joy of discovery every once in a while together. To be able to discover something with students is pretty great.”

The next event, “Experiential Learning in a COVID-19 World,” will be held on Oct. 9. Anyone interested can register online.

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