I hope your spring break was a good one and that you had the opportunity to catch your breath as the April whirlwind arrives. April is always such a hectic month in our academic year, but my favorite given all of the year-end celebrations, recognitions, and other opportunities to acknowledge and honor the accomplishments of our students, staff, and faculty….
My sample size is small, but the returns have been consistent – faculty, staff, and students are excited to be back in class with masks optional. As one faculty member put it, “The energy level in my class is entirely different, and students are engaging in ways they were not before spring break when everyone was masked.” I have heard similar stories from students who appreciate that masks are no longer hiding facial expressions and muffling voices. While excited with our change in policy, all appear to be respecting the personal choice to “mask up” for those who need or want to continue to wear a mask, regardless of the reason.
For me, the reaction here is more evidence of how much our Purdue community values the residential learning experience. Interpersonal engagement is at the heart of that residential experience. And, despite our best efforts, it was compromised during the 2020-21 academic year when student engagement waned with the constraints demanded by COVID-19.
Taking full advantage of being together physically is a central tenet of our Road Map for Transformative Undergraduate Education. Innovation College is a core element of the Road Map – one of its goals is focused on supporting new ideas for classroom engagement and, importantly, how we expand our portfolio of experiential learning opportunities, both inside and outside the classroom. Jenn Dobbs-Oates, clinical associate professor of human development and family studies, is leading these activities through our Office of Experiential Education. (We are defining experiential education as a planned pedagogy centering on an authentic experience to strengthen students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities, paired with student reflection.)
As a first step, Jenn and her colleagues from across campus have completed a landscape analysis of experiential learning currently taking place at Purdue. If we are going to strengthen and expand these opportunities, we need to know what we are doing as a campus, who is participating, and if these experiences are impactful. To date, 355 experiential learning programs within 12 different categories have been cataloged. These 12 categories include clinical experiences, internships/student teaching/co-op, project-based experiences (such as with an industry partner), service learning or community-based learning, simulations/role-playing/gaming, study abroad, and undergraduate research, along with five others. About 70 percent of these programs have defined learning outcomes. Of the six types of outcomes, professional skills are the most frequent (followed by cognitive skills, then technical and discipline-based skills).
Such data provide an important starting point for expanding our experiential learning activities. Once we have a deeper sense of where opportunities are available, which students have engaged, and can assess the impact of the activities, we will be in a much stronger position to address gaps, expand highly impactful programs, and ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate in experiential education.
Living Learning Communities (LLCs) are a great example of what is possible. Purdue’s LLCs combine the academic and living environment into a cohesive academic experience. Students enrolled in LLCs are co-enrolled in classes and often live in the same areas of our residence halls. Since 2011, Purdue has expanded from 42 LLCs to 72 in fall 2021. Today, nearly 4,500 students across campus are part of the LLCs. These LLCs encompass areas as varied as Research Accelerator, Animalia, and Women in Engineering.
Do LLCs have any impact on student success? Our data show that students in LLCs have higher retention rates as well as higher GPAs – and these retention and graduation benefits also are seen in subpopulations such as under-represented minority (URM) students.
There is much more happening with the Road Map and the Transformative Education 2.0 Purdue Next Moves initiative. With help from the campus community, we have selected a new course planning and degree audit tool called EduNav. The classroom master planning project is moving forward and you can participate in several visioning activities this month. The Teaching Academy has been working to define what we mean by great teaching, and has developed a helpful Framework for Teaching Excellence with guidance on how to acknowledge great teaching in our promotion and tenure process.
In the end, we are working to support that most fundamental educational goal – the magic, the learning, that happens when a skilled and passionate teacher engages with motivated students in a classroom or lab environment. My thanks to all of you who make that magic happen every day on our campus.
All the best,
P.S.: Read about some of our extraordinary educators here – this year’s Murphy and other campus teaching award winners!