What the Educational Task Force is currently calling Immersion Experiences will replace the current Experiential Learning requirement in the fall of 2018. According to Task Force members, the change will give the requirement a clearer definition and increase the importance of the experiences.
Dean of the College and Vice President of Academic Affairs Laura Behling explained that having the requirement be a pillar of the new curriculum would give it the status it needs in a liberal arts education. The other pillars are Elements, Specialization and a First Year Experience.
“It really, I think, elevates an experiential learning component, a sort of applied component, into one of the the four areas of the program,” Behling says.
For Associate Professor of Computer Science and Task Force member Jaime Spacco the more exact definition of the new Immersion Experiences compared to the current Experiential Learning component will help prevent these sort of experiences from becoming afterthoughts.
“It’s very hard because the more carefully you define what [Immersion Experiences] have to be the less flexibility there is for it to be something else. But if you make it too broad you end up with what’s essentially right now what we call Experiential Learning, which for many students is amazing, but as a category is really just a checkbox for most people,” Spacco said.
At the same time, Spacco noted that the activities that fall under Experiential Learning are valuable. For some students the requirement is not thought of until near graduation and then they look back on their years at Knox and find something they can use. The new definition will seek to avoid this.
Spacco also estimated that around 80 percent of students already participate in immersion experiences, which include opportunities like studying abroad, off-campus study and immersive terms. Knox currently offers four immersion terms: Start-Up Term, Green Oaks Term, Clinical Term and Repertory Theatre Term (Rep Term for short).
Task Force member and Professor of English Natania Rosenfeld is especially excited for the potential of linked courses where students would take pairs of courses and add something else beyond the classes to look at the connections between the subjects.
“We hope that this takes it a good step further in that you begin to shape something and begin to see how certain things are shaped. So you make connections that one conventional classroom experience would not enable you to make. You feel yourself to be acquiring a kind of competence that one conventional classroom experience wouldn’t allow you,” Rosenfeld said.
The faculty is still voting on what sort of examples are Experiential Learning and which are Immersion Experiences. Immersion Experiences will exist alongside the Power of Experience grants which will be implemented in the fall of 2017 but their relationship is currently uncertain.
The Task Force hopes that the Immersion Experiences will add real world experience and a different form of learning to the Knox education, beyond the experiences that normally take place in a liberal arts school.
“We want students to be able to push themselves really hard into a new direction, a new area, and do things when there’s a chance they would fail. There’s a chance it won’t work. It’s sort of weird because in academia we regard failure very differently than failure is regarded in entrepreneurship or writing,” Spacco said.