Deanna Rogers (left) and Jenn McRae underwent a transformative educational experience during a Semester in Dialogue class in 2009 and were in turn inspired to initiate an Experiential Education survey project, which they completed this spring.

EE survey finds breadth but less depth

October 25, 2012

Deanna Rogers and Jenn McRae are walking the talk when it comes to experiential education (EE). And judging from an institution-wide survey the pair completed this year, so are hundreds of SFU courses—although an intense experiential component is lacking in all but a handful.

Geography grad McRae and Anthropology grad Rogers underwent a transformative educational experience during a Semester in Dialogue class in 2009 and were in turn inspired to initiate the Experiential Education project, an inventory of SFU course-based EE opportunities.

“We literally experienced our way to experiential education research,” laughs McRae.

Following a pilot study in late 2010 cataloguing EE courses in the faculties of Environment and Arts and Social Sciences, the VP, Academic’s office commissioned them to audit the other six faculties.

Their conclusion: About 32 percent of all credit courses at SFU incorporate some form of experiential education. But in most cases the experiential element is limited, and “deeply immersive, highly engaging experiences are few in number and largely inaccessible to the majority of the student body.”

The study classified courses as experiential if they included at least one of six broad ‘practices’:

  • Reflective experiences such as journal writing.
  • Field experiences such as field trips or field work for labs.
  • Creative project experiences such as blogging and video production.
  • Community experiences such as internships and community-based research.
  • Collaborative experiences such as learner-directed environments and interinstitutional or inter-disciplinary activities.
  • Problem-based experiences such as simulations, case studies and real-world problem solving.

“When it comes to really deep and immersive experiences there were only 25 courses across the whole curriculum,” the authors note, representing a tiny fraction of all SFU courses.

The report includes two sets of recommendations—one set for aligning the course-based curriculum with SFU’s strategic vision and another for increasing access to course-based experiential education.

VP, Academic Jon Driver writes in the Foreword that the report challenges administrators to support instructors who create intensely experiential learning, instructors to think less about content and more about how students learn, and students to become more engaged with their education.

But he adds the report is inspiring because it shows that “SFU instructors broadly embrace experiential education, in a wide range of approaches, and across all our faculties.”


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