Examples in Experiential Education

Examples of experiential education abound in all disciplines. In her 1991 book Living Between the Lines, Lucy Calkins states, "If we asked our students for the highlight of their school careers, most would choose a time when they dedicated themselves to an endeavor of great importance ...I am thinking of youngsters from P.S. 321, who have launched a save-the-tree campaign to prevent the oaks outside their school from being cut down. I am thinking of children who write the school newspaper, act in the school play, organize the playground building committee... On projects such as these, youngsters will work before school, after school, during lunch. Our youngsters want to work hard on endeavors they deem significant."

There are other examples. High school English classes in Rabun Gap, Georgia have published the Foxfire books and magazines for over 25 years. Students research the culture of the Appalachian mountains through taped interviews and then write and edit articles based upon their interviews. Foxfire has inspired hundreds of similar cultural journalism projects around the country.

One widely adopted form of experiential education is learning through service to others. An example is Project OASES (Occupational and Academic Skills for the Employment of Students) in the Pittsburgh public schools. Eighth graders, identified as potential dropouts, spend three periods a day involved in renovating a homeless shelter as part of a service project carried out within their industrial arts class. Students in programs such as these learn enduring skills such as planning, communicating with a variety of age groups and types of people, and group decision making. In carrying out their activities and in the reflection component afterward, they come to new insights and integrate diverse knowledge from fields such as English, political science, mathematics, and sociology.

Other approaches at the university level include laboratory courses in social sciences and humanities that seek to parallel laboratory courses in the natural sciences. In social science laboratory courses, students combine theory with tests of the theory in field settings and often develop their own social models in disciplines as far ranging as history and philosophy to economics, political science and anthropology.

Friends World Program, a four-year international study program operating out of Long Island University, operates entirely around self-guided, experiential learning while immersed in foreign cultures. Regional centers employ mostly advisors rather than teaching faculty; these advisors guide the individual students in preparing a "portfolio of learning" each semester to display the results of their experiences and projects.

Other projects and "capstone" programs have included everything from student teams writing their own international development plans and presenting them to Presidents and foreign media and publishing their studies as textbooks, in development studies, to running their own businesses, NGOs, or community development banks.

At the professional school level, experiential education is often integrated into curricula in "clinical" courses following the medical school model of "See one, Do one, Teach one" in which students learn by practicing medicine. This approach is now being introduced in other professions in which skills are directly worked into courses to teach every concept (starting with interviewing, listening skills, negotiation, contract writing and advocacy, for example) to larger scale projects in which students run legal aid clinics or community loan programs, write legislation or community development plans.