The Experiential Learning Initiative (ELI) is a 3-year pilot program to support and develop experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin. This program supports a major UT Austin initiative of President Gregory L. Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis. Taking up the challenge of implementing such an initiative, Provost McInnis, in late 2017, assembled the Experiential Learning (EL) Faculty Working Group: 12 faculty from colleges, schools, and units across campus. Based on the recommendations in the group’s final report, ELI is partnering with UT Austin faculty members to develop, scale, and integrate experiential learning into degree programs at UT Austin.
To spread the culture of “learning by doing” in UT Austin courses and degree programs, and thereby unlock the potential of our students.
- Raise awareness of and celebrate course-based EL opportunities that faculty have already developed and piloted.
- Incentivize faculty to develop new EL opportunities for students at the course or curricular level.
- Develop a supportive Faculty Ambassador program in each undergraduate college/school.
- Assess various digital portfolio options for publishing and preserving student work.
Hallmarks of Experiential Learning
Experiential learning opportunities offer students assignments and activities based on real-life situations or primary research that engages them in reflective problem-solving with multiple potential avenues of inquiry. These opportunities have the following hallmarks:
- Instructor preparation of the students for their experiential learning activities
- Some student autonomy in defining and pursuing their own questions and methods of inquiry into solving a problem or making a discovery
- Students’ written reflection on the EL experience: why they did what they did and what they learned
- A final product or contribution for an audience beyond the course instructor
- Recognition that setbacks are often a useful part of the learning process
These hallmarks will vary somewhat according to the level of the course. First-year students will likely need more preparation and less autonomy in pursuing their goals. For all students, the educational goal is to inspire them to learn not only how to use primary materials to answer questions but also how to manage their own learning, a necessary and lifelong skill.
In fulfillment of our first three goals, ELI is pleased to offer two programs to UT Austin faculty members:
The ELI Faculty Course Developer Program will award faculty with $5,000 a year for two years to develop and implement experiential learning in an undergraduate course.
In fulfillment of the fourth goal, ELI is supporting a faculty task force that will investigate digital portfolio options for hosting and preserving student work at UT Austin. The task force is chaired by Adam Rabinowitz of the Department of Classics.