CEDAR CITY — In today’s higher education there is traditional education, then there is experiential learning. To address the latter, Southern Utah University experts recently hosted experiential education leaders from several universities to share ideas on helping students through hands-on learning.
“There is a big difference between a student gaining experience and experiential learning,” said Patrick Clarke, dean of the School of Integrative and Engaged Learning at Southern Utah University.
Clarke went on to define experiential learning as follows:
Experiential learning is being able to demonstrate the intentionality in the way a student approaches the experience, how they learn by meeting objectives, document, describe what they would do different next time, and formally work through all the processes they are presented — this is what employers and others are looking for.
The Experiential Learning Leadership Institute (ELLI) at Southern Utah University held its first leaders’ retreat in February with 40 educators from nine institutions meeting among the scenic landscapes surrounding Moab.
Founded in 2015, ELLI has held three national conferences for experiential education leaders, with their fourth annual conference coming in June. But the Moab leadership retreat was different, Clarke said.
“At our ELLI conferences, experiential education leaders from institutions across the country come and hear from experts in the field about strategies they can use to implement experiential education in their schools,” he said. “We thought it would be a good idea to have a retreat where these institutions could work on actual plans, implement programs and get advice from other experts in the field.”
Representatives from New York, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Idaho and Utah came to the ELLI retreat with an idea they wanted to implement and left Moab with deliverable plans they could take to their supervisors.
As the Director of Applied Learning at State University of New York, the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the nation with 64 campuses, Elise Newkirk-Kotifa said she was honored to be invited and mentor those working to establish or improve experiential education in their institutions.
“Higher education can sometimes move at a rate of change that is not compatible with evolving student needs, and I have always been excited about experiential learning concepts as levers for meeting our student success goals,” she said. “I believe that we can learn from one another across state and institution lines, and was excited to be part of the ELLI retreat.”
Stephanie Thomason, associate director of the TECO Energy Center for Leadership at Tampa University, said her university’s mission centers on experiential learning and is continually looking for ways to enhance teaching effectiveness.
“My teaching philosophy is focused on continuous improvement, so I’ve always tried to find ways to improve my delivery and assure student learning,” she said. “I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to join a great team of educators at the ELLI retreat and look forward to attending many more ELLI conferences and retreats in the future.”
The University of Tennessee at Martin sent a representative from four of their five colleges to the ELLI retreat. Charles Bradshaw, an associate professor of English, said UTM is working on a campuswide initiative where every student engages in experiential learning before graduating.
“The SUU staff at the Moab ELLI retreat were top-notch. I’ve been to other conferences that just scratch the surface of what is possible with learning objectives and assessment, but this one was really well done,” he said. “It was just what we needed — a really great couple of days with some really sharp and pragmatic people.”
Clarke and many of the experts at ELLI conferences and retreats are members of the National Society for Experiential Education, founded in 1971. Last year, Southern Utah University was honored with becoming the permanent home for the archives of the NSEE that had previously been stored at multiple sites around the country.
In 2015, SUU received the NSEE Outstanding Experiential Education Program Award for exceptional commitment to experiential learning.
“ELLI is a unique program at SUU for providing resources and services to help our colleagues around the country grow their experiential learning programs,” Clarke said. “We have experts here in Cedar City who can mentor other programs in the nation, and ELLI allows us to do that.”
Proposals and registrations are now being accepted for the 2018 ELLI Annual Conference taking place June 25-28 in Flagstaff, Arizona, with an experiential excursion to the overwhelming colors and erosional forms that make up the Grand Canyon. For more information, go to the Southern Utah University ELLI website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435-586-7808.