Experiential Learning

Herb Foster 
By: Iannaccone and Gallineau

Experiential Learning: Fieldwork, Internship and Practicum

Experiential learning affords the contemporary student of higher education with the opportunity to construct knowledge. To enable them to make sense of what they learn and to re-invent it for themselves. In order for this to occur they connect new learning to prior knowledge and discover for themselves the link between what the curriculum is teaching and their own experiences and frames of reference. Experiential learning entails a range of educational opportunities which include community service, field based activities, internships, practica, collaborative or cooperative education in conjunction with the business or corporate community, and participation in field scholarship activities such as research or related professionalizing activities ( McKeachie, 1999)

A.  Purpose and Goals of Experiential Learning

Most fundamentally, the goals of experiential learning are both cognitive and motivational. Abstract concepts are expected to become more meaningful as students see the connections between practical “every day” occurrences and textbook theory, i.e., deeper understanding of concepts and strategies for learning and addressing phenomena within social, political and economic contexts. Further, experiential learning provides students with substantive or anchored information that can be shared in follow up class discussions. In effect, connections evolve for students in learning, thinking and doing. Additionally, experiential learning can serve a major role in motivating students to develop deeper commitments to service and research. (McKeachie, 1999).

B.  Terminology and Definitions

Field work

Internship

Practica

Supervision and Instruction

C.  Theory to Practice Focus

Linking theory to practice should be the focus of virtually all college and university curricula and the faculty assigned to implement the various academic programs. It ihas become more and more widely believed that anything originating in the classroom should be able to be generalized to various practical settings including the work place and training and development programs. Otherwise, classroom learning that isn’t observed and applied is largely meaningless. Several recent research findings have endorsed active and collaborative learning initiatives  are the best supporters of student learning. Astin (      ), Kuh (       ), Pascarella and        Terenzinni (     ) and Tinto (         ) have produced findings that support this contemporary premise and view. Student interaction with other students, faculty and professionals in the field is a way to establish human resource networks, be involved (Involvement Theory) in one’s own learning and be a part of learning activities designed to link theory to practice. Thus, the case for experiential learning and building dynamic fieldwork, internship and practicum opportunities throughout the academic community.

D.   Preparation

Orientation to the Purposes, Significance, Performance Standards, Learning Outcomes,and Roles. In building an effective fieldwork, internship and/or practicum program it is expected that certain guidelines will be followed to maximize learning and development opportunities for students.

Important guidelines and recommendations include the following:

  • Specifying performance standards relevant to the academic discipline and desired student learning outcomes.
  •  Delineating expectations for assigned mentors and supervisors intended to support the learning outcomes and contribute to a quality student experience.
  •  Developing a contract and interviewing process similar to that a student would experience in a “real” job situation. Emphasis should be placed on a fit between supervisor, student and the fieldwork, internship or practicum site. Also, for some academic programs the student’s career goal or interest.
  • A type of job description, including performance standards, should accompany the signed contract. The contract is signed by the student, supervisor and appropriate faculty member or academic program representative (see example of a contract on _________)
  • The performance appraisal process and form should be aligned with responsibilities, functions, tasks and performance standards described within the job description and course syllabus.
  • Fieldwork, internship, and practicum site visits should be scheduled with clarity regarding the purpose of each visit;. Emphasis should be placed on supporting student learning and professional development and maintaining healthy relationships with the organizations and individuals supporting such experiential learning programs.
  •   Periodic articulation and review sessions should be held between college and university and fieldwork, internship and practicum personnel. Also, to express gratitude for supporting the overall student learning experience.
  •  It is most important that students report on their overall experience in a seminar setting including challenges faced, strategies utilized to overcome the challenges, developed or learned skills and abilities, major accomplishments and provide appropriate feedback to faculty and others as deemed appropriate. Here, there is shared learning among all the students.
  • To expand the overall learning experience, have students conduct personal interviews with other professionals located at the fieldwork, internship or practicum site. This is another way to develop professional networks and further connect theory to practice. Further, it is important to have students share the outcomes of their interviews. This enables each student to become aware of others’ learning and increase their professional networks beyond the professionals they personally interviewed.

Finally, it is essential to conduct periodic evaluative activities as a means for assessing the overall impact and quality of fieldwork, internship and practicum programs. It is recommended that every five years, as part of the overall academic program review, descriptive research (see Appendix A, Survey Form) is conducted. Academic program alumni and supervisors should be surveyed and the results utilized to further enhance such experiential learning programs. It is suggested that any experiential learning program include the following initiatives:

  •  Conducting personal interviews with other professionals at the internship site with an emphasis on expanding professional networks and meeting career development needs. It is important to share outcomes with appropriate faculty and other students.
  •  Sharing learning and developmental outcomes as a result of the internship experience. Students can benefit form this exercise aimed at contributing to others learning through oral reports regarding internship responsibilities and tasks, challenges, response to the challenges, special accomplishments and identifying skills and abilities that were addressed.
  • Having students develop a case study based upon an internship situation or challenge faced by the student intern and facilitating class discussion and problem-solving as another practical learning experience.

These are active learning opportunities that enhance a theory-to-practice approach to teaching and learning. Also, these and other experiential learning initiatives enable student to learn from each other and present learning outcomes.

E.  Capturing the Moment: Log, Journal, Portfolio, Interviews with Professionals in  the field

Documentation of growth and achievement throughout experiential learning is extremely valuable for the student and teacher. Several different approaches and formats are highly appropriate.

  •  The log or journal often thought of as a “daily professional diary” can provide the student with a somewhat informal daily record of his/her reflections and experiences. The student may wish to impose some form of structure to the daily entries made through several pre determined questions or an outline highlighting important aspects of the field experience. Standard procedure pertaining to the use of the log simply requires consistent entries of any length or description noted by the student in conjunction with the date of the experience and description of the contextual elements associated with each entry.
  • The portfolio has attracted increasingly greater attention throughout higher education and general education as a valid indicator and permanent product of student  achievement. While there are many evolving perspectives concerning the formulation and structure of the portfolio, it has wide ranging potential as a creative and engaging approach to learning and evaluation. In effect, the performance portfolio and its content must be linked with the goals of the field experience. Overall, the contents of the portfolio should give evidence of the student’s achievement of those goals prescribed in conjunction with the field experience and each item contained in the portfolio should exhibit the essential knowledge acquired and products amassed.
  • The professional interview  offers the student a unique socially interactive opportunity to collect information that is relevant to currently vital to important social, political and economic issues.

F.  Finding and Selecting a Placement, Campus and Community Resources

G. Scheduling and Preparing for Interviews

  • Conducting personal interviews with other professionals at the internship site with an emphasis on expanding professional networks and meeting career development needs. It is important to share outcomes with appropriate faculty and other students.

H. Choosing a Placement/Site

  1. Career Development
  1. Climate Audit
  1. Supervision
  • Periodic articulation and review sessions should be held between college and   university and fieldwork, internship and practicum personnel. Also, to express gratitude for supporting the overall student learning experience.
  1. Learning Opportunities
  1. Practical Issues: Location, Times

6. Making the Most of Your Fieldwork, Internship, Practicum Experience

7. Professional Mentoring and Networking

8.  Connecting to the Classroom

9.   Volunteering and Other Ways to Make an Impact

10.  Work Hard

11. Be Professional in All You Do

12. Getting Help When You Need It

13. Getting Started

I. Seminars to Share Experiences and Learning Outcomes, Meet with Internship Supervisors, Do Career Plannin

  •  Having students develop a case study based upon an internship situation or challenge faced by the student intern and facilitating class discussion and problem-solving as another practical learning experience.
  • Sharing learning and developmental outcomes as a result of the internship experience. Students can benefit form this exercise aimed at contributing to others learning through oral reports regarding internship responsibilities and tasks, challenges, response to the challenges, special accomplishments and identifying skills and abilities that were addressed.

J.   Performance Assessment and Evaluation Process

  • Getting Closure, Completing or Finishing the Fieldwork, Internship or Practicum Experience

 

  • Introduction and Background
  • Preparation
  • Choosing a Placement/Site
  • Making the Most of Your Fieldwork, Internship, Practicum Experience
  • Getting Started
  • Seminars to Share Experiences and Learning Outcomes, Meet with Internship Supervisors, and Discuss Career Planning
  • Performance Assessment and Evaluation Process
  • Getting Closure, Completing or Finishing the Fieldwork, Internship or Practicum Experience
  • Post-Assessment Questions