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University Senate passes Experiential Learning tag requirement

In preparation for the university reaccreditation in 2020-21, the University Senate passed a proposal last Thursday, making the Experiential Learning (EL) tag a required Core Practice starting as early as next year.

Experiential Learning is now the second mandatory tag along with the Writing Intensive (WI) tag of Bradley Core Curriculum (BCC) program.

When the EL tag requirement is implemented in fall 2019 for first-year freshmen and in the fall of 2020 for transfer students, they will need to take two EL-tagged courses to fulfill their requirements, which could be in categories of a capstone project, study abroad, internship, service learning or undergraduate research.

These practices were based out of 10 high-impact practices identified by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and they are — capstone courses and projects, collaborative assignments and projects, common intellectual experiences, diversity/global learning (study abroad), first-year seminars and experiences, internships, learning communities, service learning and community-based learning, undergraduate research and writing-intensive courses.

“Those experiential learning tags will help students understand how what they are learning in the classroom applies to real-world contexts,” Jon Neidy, executive director of Smith Career Center and a leading member in Core Practices subcommittee, said. “We are very much trying to make sure that every student who graduates has that experience, or has those activities, before they go off into the world. We think it will help them on both of their graduate school searches and in their professional careers.”

According to Neidy, there are about 92 percent of the students have had these types of experience by the time they graduate from Bradley.

The senate first passed the EL tag in April 2017 to replace and redefine the concept of Integrative Learning (IL) tag, an original recommended Core Practice tag when BCC was first implemented in August 2018. It also replaced Multidisciplinary Integration with Integrative Learning as a Core Outcome, the objective for BCC program.

The proposal passed during the meeting approved the final detailed definition of EL tag, curriculum elements and made it a required tag.

“Integrative learning is still something that we care about here at Bradley, and it’s now a Bradley Core Outcome, not a Core Practice,” said Kelly McConnaughay, chairperson of the Core Curriculum committee and Core Practice subcommittee. “There are not specific courses that are aimed at integrative learning. But integrative learning is something that we value very strongly, we think students should be able to understand the connections across all their different courses and curriculum … It’s just not a tagged thing like Experiential Learning,”

“The interesting thing is, we passed the Experiential Learning core practice a year ago, and so we actually have a small number of courses ready to go,” McConnaughay said. “We think we will be able to build a nice collection of courses of experience in the next year.”

Besides giving an extra year of implementation, the committee also reserves the rights to make recommendations for transfer students who may struggle to complete these requirements on time.

McConnaughay believes the experiential learning courses will allow students to integrate what they learn from all disciplines into a system of skills.

“The unique part of the experiential learning tag would be providing you a structure for simply reflecting on what you have taken in your curriculum, whether it’s major or Bradley Core Curriculum,” McConnaughay said.

“I think that the EL tag affords that sort of framework and helps the students see these patterns so that the next time that they are doing an experience, or have an experiential opportunity, they can make sure that they are doing that integration, that sort of forward thinking about what this is going to bring to a potential employer, how this is going to shape them as a citizen and in 10 years,” McConnaughay said.

A concept model of Bradley Core Curriculum and Experiential Learning tag. Illustration via Kelly McConnaughay.

Although the proposal eventually passed the senate, the process wasn’t smooth. Several senators were trying to postpone the voting, wishing for more time to review and discuss the matter.

“I think there were several of us [first-year senators] were forgotten, the new senators, and the email that sent out all of the information that we were going to be looking at the meeting. So I didn’t get it until the night before,” said Megan Remmel, assistant professor of political science and a first-term senator. “I just wanted to have a chance to have a more thorough look at it. Because I know this has been a thing that’s been going on for the last two years, but this is my first time on the senate, so it was more of I didn’t think that I and others were ready to vote on something that’s this important.”

After failing to postpone the voting, Remmel was the only senator who voted against the bill.

“I would love for our students to study abroad, I would love for students to do capstone experiences and do their own research, be creators of the knowledge rather than kind of ingesters of knowledge,” Remmel said. “I am concerned about how quickly they are going to try to put it into place.”

“I know that there’s a lot of experiences that are going on on campus right now … that are wonderful opportunities for the students and they need a way to codify them,” said Remmel. “I certainly understand the administration perspective, I just don’t know if the actual logistics on how this is going to work have thoroughly been vetted.”

When asked if she would change her vote had she been better informed, Remmel said, “I’d probably voted against it, even if I were more informed. Simply because there’s a lot of concerns about how this is going to affect both students and faculty.”

Representing the student body as a whole, Student Senate president Mikki Tran attended the meeting and voted in favor of the proposal.

“Hands-on experience is something that really matters for students. And that EL tag will make it cohesive across the campus and all colleges and departments and majors,” Tran said. “It was not a difficult vote, but I want things to continue to move on so they can do more with it.”

Tran got majority of her knowledge about the Experiential Learning tag from being a member of strategic planning committee.

“I also sit on strategic planning committee and that has a very strict timeline of what it needs to accomplish when,” Tran said. “You can only table [EL tag proposal] for so long and send it out, like they said, that EL tag has been in the works and finalized for University senate a year ago.”

When asked about the timeline of this proposal, which concerns some senators, Tran believes it will ultimately work out.

“Timeline wise, I’m concerned but also not,” Tran said. “It’s all in good hands, and I know that the provost is so hands on with dealing with that and working with the committees to make sure that we are doing the right things and not rushing … When I talk to him and I talked to administration about it, it seems like everything is going as planned, it’s just kind of like if that didn’t pass last week they couldn’t any actions to move forward with it.”

According to Tran, the proposal has not been discussed in recent Student Senate general assembly meetings.

“I was aware of it because I talked to administration about it a little bit. But things like this are not often brought up to student senate unless directly asked to,” Tran said. “I think it’d be a good idea to bring to them, but I feel like that’s just another world, like the faculty and staff world, but it directly affects students, so I understand why it should be brought up. But again, I was not aware of it until arriving the University Senate.”

“If I have time before that, to read all these pages, I still think I’ll vote the same,” Tran said.

This Experiential Learning tag will share the same approval process with the Writing Intensive tag, which requires the department and faculty to propose the potential qualified course to senate committee, then reviewed and approved by the senate.

“From what I’ve seen it’s exhaustive and thorough,” said Sara Netzley, associate professor of communication and the instructor of one of the WI tag course. “I can only talk about the approval process from continuing to run the class in a way that will meet the requirement as they’ve been set up.”

“On my end, what I appreciate is it makes it very clear what I need to do,” Netzley said. “The approval process sets up expectations for amount of work, type of work. It tells me what I need to establish and what the students will going to expect.”

According to Bradley u.Achieve and the fall 2018 class schedule, there are 73 listed WI tag approved courses throughout all colleges, but only 36 of them are offered this semester, with many of them having only one section.

“[WI tag] has led to a greater diversity of academic background in my classes,” Netzley said. “It had changed the way I introduce concepts in some cases … Rather than all communication students, I have students from a big cross section who don’t have the similar backgrounds and preparation for something communication students know coming in, communication theories and certain practices like that.”

With students taking Writing Intensive tag classes across majors, Netzley thinks there are pros and cons.

“On the one hand, I would love for these ideas to be available to anybody who’s interested in exposing people to new perspectives and new ways of thinking, critiquing the media in my case, that they wouldn’t have in other cases,” Netzley said. “My concern is if a student is taking a class only because of the writing intensive tag, sometime the material can be challenging, it almost demand a response that if you are not into the topic can be hard to give.”

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