EDGE EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING PROGRAM
In early 2010, under the direction of a new Provost, I joined a small team of Southern Utah University faculty charged with the task of designing an experiential learning program requirement that would optimize existing opportunities when possible and wouldn't extend time to graduation.
During his first few months on campus, the Provost noticed that plenty of experiential learning opportunities were available to students, but the efforts weren't coordinated. Many of the people involved in experiential learning were completely unaware of each other and their programs.
We felt the benefits gained by the students who became involved in experiential learning were so substantial that we had an obligation to include all students, not just the ones who had the time, resources, and inclination to do work outside the classroom.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
We wanted to design a program that offered enough scaffolding to ensure academic rigor and to establish common learning outcomes and objectives. But we also wanted to make sure that students were free to design a personalized project that would support their individual goals and needs. After a few iterations, with feedback from students through evaluations and focus groups, we developed a five-step program that looks like this:
We wanted to make sure students were prepared for this kind of open learning experience. So, we designed a one-credit course that exposes them to the ideals behind engaged learning and the expectations and requirements of the program.
Exploration is a key feature of the program design. Because each student has unique needs, each EDGE experience should also be unique. This time is unstructured, giving students time to follow their passions, talk to faculty, germinate ideas in the classroom, and decide to develop them further on their own.
After period of exploration, the time comes for students to commit. This is as important for the student’s personal development as it is for the project. At this point in the process, students go through another one-credit online course that focuses them on proposal writing as well as project planning, documentation, and time management skills.
Once their proposals have been approved by faculty, students complete their projects according to their own timelines. They are instructed to record and reflect while doing the project in order to be ready for the reflection and reporting required in the final stage.
When their projects are complete, we bring them back for one final one-credit online course that focuses on reporting, reflection, and celebration of their achievement. Here we also roll in some career and professional development instruction. Student use the project to update their resumes, write targeted cover letters, consider the value of multi-media and social networks for their career plans.
In the end the idea is to use this experience to give them the skills to repeat a similar process on their own whenever they want to learn some new skill. It’s our concrete access point to teaching and assessing our students’ capacity for life-long integrative learning.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
In 2015 the National Society of Experiential Education recognized Southern Utah University's EDGE Program as an "outstanding K-12 or higher education institution that has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to experiential education in their classrooms or on their campuses. Criteria for the award were centered on the program goals and objectives and how they align with the NSEE's mission and best practices. The organization considered the level of innovation in the program design, its implementation and evaluation. It also considered the level of outreach as well as the depth and breadth of program's impact among stakeholders.