EYE on Education: Experience Your Education program will expand tradition at Lander
November 14, 2008
How effective would an education be if it relied solely on textbooks and lectures? Imagine a doctor graduating from medical school without working with actual patients; a teacher earning a degree without spending time with real students; a business graduate entering the workforce without interacting with real clients.
To be successful in their careers, students need to enhance their textbook knowledge by applying it in real-world settings, an age-old concept that can include internships, apprenticeships, clinicals, study abroad and service learning projects. These "real-world" experiences have a common thread: they take education beyond the boundaries of the classroom walls.
"The idea is to have a contextual, authentic learning situation," said Lander University's Dr. Danny McKenzie, vice president for Academic Affairs. "No matter how capable a professor or instructor is with students, it is very difficult to recreate the complexity of the work environment. In terms of gaining real workplace experience, nothing is quite as effective as being there."
As a former dean of Lander's College of Education, McKenzie knows the importance of contextual learning - education majors are required to spend months working in elementary, middle or high school classrooms before receiving a teaching degree. At most colleges and universities, many academic disciplines - from the sciences to the humanities - require some form of contextual learning experience, whether on campus, such as a class service learning project, or off campus in the form of an internship, apprenticeship or clinical.
While contextual learning has been a longstanding tradition at Lander, a new program in the works will focus both on engaging more students in these opportunities and on evaluating those experiences based on the standards sought by employers in the workforce.
The Experience Your Education (EYE) program is the brainchild of a committee of Lander faculty, staff and students, and community leaders, said Lander's Dr. James Colbert, director of the EYE Program and an assistant professor of biochemistry. Under the program, students who participate in an EYE-approved contextual learning opportunity would be mentored by a faculty member on campus and by a work-site supervisor. Along with an evaluation from their supervisors, students would be required to submit a presentation or project on their experience, which faculty members would use to assessthe students' success.
"Each EYE-approved opportunity would have an assessment rubric that faculty members would follow to determine how well the student performed and how much they learned," Colbert continued. "Lander has been using a variety of experiential learning opportunities for many years, but we will now be able to coordinate these activities under one program that will make them assessable and accountable."
Though still in the development stage, EYE has many Lander faculty members excited about the possible benefits, and a diverse selection of experiential learning opportunities have already been approved for the program's launch in early 2009. Those opportunities range from internships in business, environmental science and chemistry to projects in software development, cooperative education, theatre production and journalism.
"Nothing teaches us better than doing something with our own hands under careful guidance," said Sam Tolbert, associate professor of health care management and director of business internships at Lander. Tolbert, who will coordinate an EYE opportunity, said business students are strongly encouraged to participate in contextual learning, adding that about 50 percent of last year's business graduates held some form of internship. "Seeing how your academic learning is applied in the real world and how the business world really operates are critically important in transitioning from college to the workplace."
Robert Stevenson, associate professor of mass communications, will coordinate EYE opportunities involving production for Lander's student newspaper, the Forum, including news writing, photography, editing and advertising. "I fully subscribe to the experiential learning paradigm, and I'm very supportive of the EYE program," Stevenson said. "Certain disciplines simply demand hands-on learning, and the media field is one such profession."
Practical experience - whether with a large corporation or on a small college newspaper - also gives students a chance to broaden their skills and learn to multitask - two highly valuable traits that allow students to "hit the ground running," Stevenson said.
"Working on a student newspaper in a small college is generally accepted by media professionals to be outstanding preparation for working in a variety of media careers," he said. "Students not only learn to master the position for which they were hired, but due to the small nature of the publication, they have many opportunities to gain an understanding of a variety of media-related professions."
By immersing themselves in authentic environments, students can develop professionalism and self-responsibility while honing their skills of communication, collaboration and problem solving - giving experiential learning participants a competitive advantage over other jobseekers.
But the EYE advantage is not just for students, Lander's McKenzie added. The community already benefits from having working partnerships with the university's students, he said, and the EYE program will work to further those relationships with area businesses and organizations.
"One of Lander's strategic goals is building linkages with the community," McKenzie said, "and contextual learning experiences get our students out in the community where they can build those linkages."
For information on the Experience Your Education program at Lander, contact Dr. James Colbert, EYE program director, at 864-388-8767.