Why Experiential Learning?

This post was written by Greg Thompson, Spanish and Portuguese, HC Faculty Fellow

A lab coat, a lab coat! My kingdom for a lab coat!

When President Worthen first announced the university’s new focus on inspiring learning, I was initially slightly saddened by the fact that our teaching had not been “inspiring” during BYU’s 140 years+ history and required an initiative in order to get faculty and students inspired. However, I was relieved and quite elated to realize that President Worthen was not referring to some lack in focus by students and faculty but to an increase in the incorporation of experiential learning into our classes and programs.

The reason for my elation is that I have studied, researched, and published extensively on service learning, a sub-field of experiential learning, and I was pleased to see that BYU was prompting this type of instruction and learning. This announcement and subsequent announcements have been accompanied by a video of a wide range of students and faculty working together through different types of experiential learning.

I was made aware in a Humanities Center Colloquium titled, “Test Tubes, Book Spines, and Broken Contracts” by Brian Croxall of Digital Humanities, that it seemed that this inspiring learning necessitated either a fishing boat on a distant body of water, travel to some exotic tropical location, or a white lab coat. Giving my slightly sensitive stomach to travels on large bodies of distant water and my lack of affinity for the dissection of marine life as well as limited travel funds, I, like my colleague in Digital Humanities, will focus on white lab coats (available in the BYU Store for only $19.95). I have thought that maybe the lack of inclusion of the College of Humanities in these BYU videos is due to the obvious lack of lab coats in our classrooms and that possibly purchasing them for our students, might lead to our inclusion in subsequent promotional videos about inspiring learning.

Picture this: a scene where a group of English 317R-Writing Creative Nonfiction students are seated in the JFSB basement all wearing their labs coats while discussing theories and methodologies related to creative writing in non-fiction and then a cutaway shot to these same students, still adorned in their lab coats, assisting a local non-profit in revising and developing promotional material about the resources and services of this organization to the local community members. The video would then cut away again, but this time to a group of Spanish translation students. Again they would be outfitted in lab coats, working and collaborating together to translate said promotional material into Spanish, and thus making it accessible to the Hispanic population that represents the largest minority population in Utah County. The final scene of this moving video would show digital humanities students, robed in their lab coats, in DIGHT 350-Web Information Technologies helping to develop a website for the local non-profit organization that includes the work of the other lab coat equipped students thus allowing them to reach more people and better serve the community in and around BYU.

Imagine the value of this type of service and the learning that would take place as students and local community members worked together to better help those around us all the while applying what they are learning in class. Envision these different classrooms as our lab-coat-garlanded students returned to reflect on some of the struggles and challenges they faced while carrying out this project, and this led to guided discussions about the implementation of the ideas discussed in previous classes. Contemplate the connections that students would make to their local community and even possible contacts for future employment opportunities. Visualize the community members better served and grateful for the assistance now more easily available to them through work of our lab-coat-attired students. If only we had lab coats then maybe, just maybe, we could finally get the College of Humanities into the next video on inspiring learning.

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