January 29, 2014
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING in class development and how to ensure students benefit. Discussion lead by Leah McCurdy, PhD Student & Adjunct Professor. We discussed the value of experiential learning for anthropology course content as well as proper implementation. We discussed meeting specific students needs when experiential learning requires off-campus or other non-traditional components. The importance of student reflection on their experience was emphasized, based on publications by David Kolb.

Inspired by her Master’s degree coursework at the University of York in England, Leah incorporated experiential teaching strategies into her Introduction to Archaeology course at Northwest Vista College in Spring 2014. Experiential learning is most often referred to as ‘learning by doing’ within a real-time and real-life environment that offers the student a direct experience relevant to course content. David Kolb is a well-known educational theorist and proponent of experiential teaching methods. He proposes the “4-Step Experiential Learning Model (ELM)” involving the following:
1. Active Experimentation
2. Concrete Experience
3. Reflective Observation
4. Abstract Conceptualization

Before encountering Kolb’s work, Leah designed her course with four main experiential components:

1. Mock Dig: Northwest Vista College created an on-campus mock dig site (dubbed Northwest Vista Ranch) where Archaeology students can experience and practice archaeological data collection skills. Students have the opportunity to engage in archaeological survey methods, excavation, artifact collection, and field processing techniques at Northwest Vista Ranch. Mock excavations are conducted during class time at Northwest Vista Ranch under the supervision of the instructor.

2. Application Sessions: Each class session primarily devoted to lecture and discussion is paired with an application session in which students practice various relevant archaeological skills and techniques. Application topics include artifact processing and analysis, bioarchaeology analysis, ethnoarchaeological fieldwork, etc. Application sessions are conducted either in the classroom or on the Northwest Vista campus.

3. Seminar Assessment: See discussion of Non-Traditional Assessment discussion below for more information. In lieu of traditional exam assessment, Leah is implementing seminar assessments whereby students are graded on their ability to meaningfully contribute to an academic discussion relevant to recently covered archaeological topics. Seminars are centered around a recently published academic article. Students are required to prepare a “Seminar Brief” based on their reading and notes of the article so as to prepare themselves to contribute during seminar discussion. This Seminar Brief, their active participation during seminar, and their demonstration of reflection are the basis for their assessed grade.

4. Field Projects: Students are required to conduct a small archaeological field project focused on the local historic site, the Huebner-Onion Homestead in Leon Valley, Texas. The result of their field project experience will be a quasi-professional Project Report and Presentation. To complete the project requirements, students must develop a research question (inspired by multiple proposed topics), carry out a short data collection method, analyze the data collected, and develop interpretations and conclusions in response to their research question. Students are introduced to the Huebner-Onion Homestead during a field-trip early in the semester and then are motivated to develop their project through Project Workshops scheduled over the course of the semester. Each Project Workshop is an opportunity for students to discuss in groups and with the instructor about their specific project. Further, deadlines for drafts of each Report component (i.e. Introduction, Literature Review, Data Collection & Analysis, Interpretations & Conclusions) coincide with the workshop sessions.
After exploring Kolb’s work on experiential learning, Leah realized the fault in her execution of these strategies. She has not built-in enough opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences and thus fully integrate the learning experiences (as abstract conceptualizations) into their generalizations of life activities and further educational pursuits. As Kolb’s ELM suggest, reflection allows students to analyze their experience as a personal endeavor that can shape future experiences and pursuits, be them in personal or educational circumstances. To complete the cycle of experiential learning, students must be willing to participate and have initiative to do so, plunge into the immersive experience, filter and analyze the experience through reflection, and then have the conceptualization and general understanding to reapply that experience to new ideas and pursuits.

ATF discussants offer suggestions for integrating reflection into Leah’s experiential teaching strategies. Their suggestions included reflective journaling or discussions, adding a reflection component to the Project Report, revising the Project Presentation to involve primarily reflection on the process, responses to prepared learning objectives as a way to elicit reflective thought on the experience. Further, a good deal of discussion related to the implementation of experiential strategies, including how to facilitate alternative assignments for students unable to participate, scheduling and traveling logistics for off-campus components, workload increases, and the benefit to students.

Additionally, Leah briefly discussed a current project with Dr. Scott Walker of Northwest Vista College using her new implementation of experiential learning strategies to gauge student transformation. The principal evaluation technique to understand student transformation will be the Transformative Learning Environment Survey (TLES) as pre- and post-surveys for Leah’s students.

Meeting Attendees: William Robertson, Jenna Bonavia, Rebecca Friedel, Sarah Boudreaux, Lori Barkwill Love, Ashley Hurst, Lynn Kim, and Guillaume Pages


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