Inside and outside the classroom, experiential learning works. Hands-on, high-impact learning experiences are central to Adelphi's personalized approach to education. A panel at the conference provided examples of their benefits to students.
On the first day of her social work research class this semester, Bernadine Waller, M.A. ’10, adjunct professor and associate director of experiential learning at Adelphi, asked 24 students to guess her weight.
She wasn’t trying to trap them or confuse them. She was trying to teach them about scientific observation—a logical and systematic way to understand and measure a phenomenon.
She gave them seemingly helpful parameters that might help them estimate her weight, like how much she deadlifts and runs each week. But without a scale, they would have no scientific method or tool to determine the exact number. Students would simply be using nonscientific observation, which is inherently flawed because it’s based on experiences and opinions.
The students easily grasped her point, and Waller continued to use this analogy to teach them about other research concepts like accuracy and reliability.
“We have to meet students where they are in order to help them digest and master the material and take them where they need to be,” Waller says. “And I enjoy doing it. It’s fun.”
This is a prime example of high-impact practice and experiential learning, the topic of discussion in a panel featuring Waller and Matthew Wright, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the physics department, at the recent Teaching and Learning Conference on January 30, 2019.
According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), high-impact practices are “teaching strategies and designs that researchers have proven to be beneficial for student success, retention and engagement…[that] can enhance student learning and narrow gaps in achievement across student populations.”
High-impact learning is a foundation of Adelphi’s personalized approach to education. The University has been incorporating high-impact practices into its curricula for more than five years through programs like mandatory first-year seminars, undergraduate research, internships and capstone courses.
Waller manages many of these offerings, such as the Hire a Panther program, which pairs students with faculty members in search of research assistants or tutors for students in their courses. The faculty member selects an interested student, and the Center for Career and Professional Development pays the student to complete the work. This is how Dr. Wright populates his on-campus research lab.
“It’s a wonderful way that we can partner with faculty members to help make their work more impactful,” Waller says. “And while we’re doing it, we provide a substantive learning opportunity for our students.”
Locally represented companies such as GEICO, United Parcel Service of America, Inc., and 1-800-Flowers.com have also tapped students to conduct research and develop projects. For example, GEICO has been working with Adelphi students to build business plans that increase its presence on Long Island. This helps students engage in real-world experiences and jump-start their careers before graduation.
High-impact teaching is also about creating personalized learning opportunities—and personal connections with students.
“One of the great things that Adelphi allows you to do, because you get to work one-to-one with the students, is really tailor the college experience for each student,” says Dr. Wright.
He shares a story of one student who was struggling to engage in class.
“He’s a brilliant, brilliant kid, but just had a hard time getting going,” Dr. Wright says. “So we set up a breakfast and he would just come in and eat his breakfast in my office every day and we would chat. And then at some point I’d kick him out of my office and he’d start working, and that was a way to get him on track.”
For years, the student continued to show up at that time to talk to Dr. Wright and start his work.
“It’s little moments like that that I think really can make a huge difference with students,” Dr. Wright says. “Maybe you need more physics problems, maybe you need a little bit of math help, maybe you need somebody to have breakfast with. I think, as faculty, it’s not just about the subject that we’re experts in. We have the opportunity to care.”
Adelphi continues to help faculty make good on this opportunity by providing resources like the Teaching and Learning Conference. The University will also foster more high-impact practices and experiential learning through its planned Innovation Center, a 2,000-square-foot research lab in Swirbul Library, set to be completed in September 2019.
With these resources, Dr. Wright hopes that high-impact practices become so common across campus that they’re seen as the new normal.
“Any situation that makes the students more engaged and feel more connected is something that we should pursue,” he says.
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