STAKEHOLDER VOICES IN INTEGRATING EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION AS A STRATEGIC UNIVERSITY INITIATIVE
University of Kansas
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Stakeholders invested in American higher education, such as accreditors, legislators, administrators, faculty, parents, and community members, are placing increasing pressure on universities to educate students in a way that will encourage them to be critical thinkers who are civically engaged as well as job-ready. A key pedagogy that universities are utilizing to achieve this goal is experiential education. According to the Association for Experiential Education, this type of pedagogy “is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people's capacity to contribute to their communities” (www. aacu.org, 2015). The commitment to more experiential education as part of the curriculum represents an organizational change, or a shift in strategic initiatives, at many universities. Zorn, Christensen, and Cheney (1999) define such change as “any alteration or modification of organizational structure or processes” (p. 10). Utilizing the University of Kansas as a case study, this research uses the accounts of various stakeholder groups, including administrators, faculty, staff, students, and community members, to assess communication about experiential learning as part of a major organizational change. This change reflects inconsistent communication between the organizational rhetoric distributed by the organization through publications such as Bold Aspirations and emailed correspondence and the communication of the various stakeholder groups about the change itself. One area where the changed focus on increased experiential education has not been as successful as was hoped is in the implementation of reflection. Facilitators of experiential education and students engaging in this type of learning report differing perceptions of the role of reflection and its outcomes. Schon (1987) referred to reflection as “a continual interweaving of thinking and doing” (p. 281). Students are asked to experience the concrete, reflect on their successes and failures, and engage in abstract thinking to develop new knowledge to use in future situations. While facilitators of experiential education appreciate the importance of reflection as part of the learning process, this study shows a disconnect between the views of facilitators and the perspectives of students. This fracture represents inconsistent and ineffective communication among change participants. Suggestions for incorporating reflection as an integral part of the experiential learning process are provided.
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