UWSP To Make Experiential Learning a General Degree Requirement

Kyle Florence kflor654@uwsp.edu

Following the implementation of a new General Education Program, experiential learning will become a requirement for all University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students next fall.

“Experiential learning is a type of engaged learning in which students are able to blend both real world experience with what they’re learning in traditional classrooms. It brings together hands-on learning and more intellectual, abstract learning,” said James Sage, interim associate vice chancellor of teaching, learning and academic programs.

Essentially, any work done outside of the classroom can qualify as experiential learning. According to the university’s new GEP, experiential learning will allow students to learn by reflecting on experiences beyond their typical classroom activities. They will be able to apply the knowledge and skills they gain from traditional courses in new settings. “Experiential learning is basically just a way for students to learn and get academic respect for things that they’re already doing,” said Julie Olaf, the student life & academic affairs director for Student Government Association. “It’s hands on work, where you apply the theories and concepts that you learn in class to a real life situation that you can get credit for and can apply to your future.”

Starting the next academic year, students will need to take part in one of two experiential learning options in order to graduate from UWSP. The first consists of a structured, recurring credit-bearing course or learning experience. The other is defined as a student-initiated experiential learning activity that could be either credit-bearing or non-credit bearing.

According to Olaf, both options were intentionally left somewhat undefined to accommodate a wide variety of scenarios and situations, insuring that any student seeking experiential learning credit is able to receive it.

“That’s the beauty of experiential learning, it’s broad in the way that you can go about it,” Olaf said. “The difference between, say, an internship or research, is how you reflect upon it. You can set your own parameters, and basically gear it towards the experience you want.”

Despite having never been a requirement until now, Sage explained that the concept of experiential learning is not new to UWSP. He goes on to cite the chemistry, forestry, and education departments as regular practitioners of the method.

“A lot of programs here on campus already integrate experiential learning. In chemistry, for example, we have a very rich and active undergraduate research component, where students get to work with professors and do research in the lab,” Sage said. “That in itself is experiential learning, in that that research effort with undergrads compliments and enhances their education.”

Senior Nathan Eby is in favor of the university’s decision to make experiential learning a requirement.

“Even though everyone says to branch out and get your feet wet in college, there are those people that don’t,” Eby said. “By making it a requirement to leave the classroom and physically apply what you’ve learned, you can better gauge where you’re at, and enter the workforce with previous experience in your field.”

This new prerequisite is not without its critics. Some argue that the particularly broad explanation as to what experiential learning is devalues the entire concept, as there is no way to determine what qualifies as experiential learning and what doesn’t.

Sage is adamant that this is not the case.

“We didn’t mean to suggest that this is somehow more valuable than traditional ways of teaching,” Sage said. “Classroom based teaching certainly has it’s place, but the idea is that this is a complement; that it adds to and supplements the overall experience.” 

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