How to include experiential learning opportunities in virtual courses

Expert Insight

How to include experiential learning opportunities in virtual courses

As uncertainty about when national and state economies will reopen persists, and as business leaders continue to model how the current disruption will impact their bottom line, students are left worrying about what comes next. A lot of the focus, and rightly so, has been on how career services and institutions can support the current graduating class find employment. However, it is important to also consider the far-reaching impact the pandemic will have on students who will be graduating in the next year or two. Not only will these students graduate into a challenging economy, but will do so after losing experiential learning opportunities that are critical for building a network and landing that coveted post-graduation job.

Given these challenges, it is more important than ever for academic leaders to work with faculty to integrate career development into the curriculum to ensure our graduates remain competitive in a new economy. To help with these efforts, EAB has identified some immediate and long-term strategies instructors and institutional leaders can adopt to include more experiential, project- and problem-based learning activities into their virtual courses.

Transition already planned experiential learning to an online environment

Many instructors have pre-planned experiential learning opportunities for the upcoming term. However, given uncertainties about the fall, it’s important to be proactive about how to adjust plans and make sure students are still deriving value from such projects.

The University of Calgary’s Taylor Institute For Teaching and Learning has created a web page that specifically addresses this issue and identifies important considerations that faculty should keep in mind when making such adjustments. To effectively transition upcoming activities to a remote environment faculty should do the following:

Portland State University’s CBL & COVID-19 webpage

Portland State University’s guidance on remote CBL

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)’s Center for Service Learning resources on continuing community-engaged teaching during COVID-19

Include new experiential learning activities in an online environment

Crowdsource virtual in-class, client-based projects

Given the equity impact of COVID-related disruption, faculty should increase accessibility of experiential learning for students by incorporating employer-proposed projects directly into their courses. This eliminates the need for students to devote extracurricular time to such activities. To do this, faculty can use existing platforms to find remote opportunities that align with their course goals to facilitate project-based and work-integrated learning for their students. This allows students to continue to build career ready skills and make connections with potential future employers. Some platforms that feature such remote opportunities include Riipen, VolunteerMatch, and All For Good.

Include faculty-facilitated projects directly into coursework

Faculty can also have students contribute to the creation or revision of open educational resources (OER). Not only does this ease the content creation burden on faculty but it allows students to build important marketable skills such as how to write for a non-specialist audience. For example, a professor at Plymouth State University worked with students to create a new open access textbook for her American Literature course. Students supported her by gathering public domain texts, writing introductions, and creating discussion questions and assignments to accompany the textbook. Similarly, at the University of Edinburgh students revised existing OER in the medical education curriculum to add materials related to LGBTQ health. While many of these projects took place in a traditional face-to-face learning environment, they can be adapted for virtual project-based learning as well.

Adapt coursework to allow students to reflect on the current crisis

Instructors can also change coursework to allow students to reflect on how the pandemic relates to their field of study. For example, at Babson College the instructor of a management consulting course asked students to reflect on how remote work would impact a consultant’s first year on the job. This allowed students to apply prior learning in the course to a real-world problem. This principle can be used in other courses as well, where faculty can ask students to consider the long-term impact of the pandemic on global migration, international relations, or the future of healthcare.

For additional resources related to incorporating experiential learning in a virtual environment see the University of Calgary’s compilation of open source online experiential learning toolkits and modules.

Encourage broader curricular changes to facilitate experiential learning in the long run

While we can hope that the immediate disruption caused by COVID-19 is relatively short-lived, it will have long-term ramifications on the economy and job market. To adapt to the increasing emphasis and need for career readiness and preparation, academic leaders will have to invest in broader institutional changes to encourage the adoption of high-impact practices across the student lifecycle.

One way to do that is to create experiential major maps. Such maps include year-by-year cocurricular plans to help students understand how their academic and nonacademic activities fit together. These allow students to make informed coursework decisions, engage with career services regularly, participate in hands-on learning, and see the connection between their degree and opportunities after graduation.

Additionally, academic leaders can consider creating career-relevant specializations, either within majors or in addition to them, to augment programs in the liberal arts. These curricular changes help students major in a liberal arts discipline while adding a set of practical, technical skills attuned to different industries, such as engineering, global business, nonprofit management, or publishing and editing.

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