Experiential Learning: connecting coursework beyond the classroom

photo of people in a river with nets

Exp learning teaser.jpgThe thriving Experiential Learning initiative at UGA provides arts & sciences students and faculty members the opportunity to reach higher:

While experiential learning has long been part of many of UGA’s pre-professional programs, there was initial concern about the feasibility of ensuring science and humanities majors had a diverse range of opportunities.

In STEM disciplines, undergraduate research is the most coveted EL experience. But it would be impossible to provide UGA’s 2,000-plus undergraduate biology majors with one-on-one research apprenticeships.

For years, Erin Dolan, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Innovative Science Education, has been investigating this dilemma: how to make undergraduate research scalable and effective.

"So, it not only benefits the students, it benefits the science.” — Professor Erin Dolan

Dolan adapted a team-based research model called Vertically Integrated Projects, originally developed at Georgia Tech. It gives undergraduates the opportunity to individually work on a piece of a faculty member’s research — the kind that requires many minds and hands — while collaborating with faculty, graduate students and peers.

“You can tackle problems in a way that you wouldn’t be able to if it was just one grad student or postdoc or a handful of folks in a research group,” Dolan said. “So, it not only benefits the students, it benefits the science.”

And while humanities students like English majors are finding internships in publishing or presenting their original research at conferences, English professor Sujata Iyengar also adapted the Bard into a service-learning experience. In her Shakespeare in the Classroom course, students can earn their EL credit by working with eighth-grade English teachers on their Shakespeare curriculum of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Hilsman Middle School in Athens.

The expansion of programs that begin on a smaller scale, whether in the Franklin College or elsewhere on campus, is a positive trend of using what works to create broader opportunities that is itself not lost on the students who participate. All of campus and many parts of the community benefit from experiential learning programs, and now that it has been codified into a requirement for graduation, another critical learning tool is part of the UGA fabric.

Image: Students in the Georgia Fishes field study course on Sapelo Island. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)