Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Learning beyond the Science Classroom: A Roadmap to Success

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Learning beyond the Science Classroom: A Roadmap to Success

Article excerpt

It is widely accepted that today's college graduates will compete in a global market fueled by rapid innovation and constant technological advances (Hart Research Associates, 2013). They will be required to adapt to new circumstances and avail themselves of opportunities for job mobility throughout their careers. While employers state that college graduates are ready for entry-level jobs, they add that they lack the skills they need in order to be promoted. A report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities questioned "whether graduates are in fact achieving the level of preparation-in terms of knowledge, capabilities, and personal qualities-that will enable them to both thrive and contribute in a fast-changing economy and in turbulent, highly demanding global, societal, and often personal contexts" (Schneider, 2008, p.2). The Association's "vision for student learning places strong emphasis on global and intercultural learning, technological sophistication, collaborative problem-solving, transferable skills, and real-world applications-both civic and job-related"(p. 3). Many of these competencies are enhanced through co-curricular or experiential activities, like undergraduate research, internships, and community-based learning (Kuh and O'Donnell, 2013). Yet, despite these findings most institutions dedicated to the study of basic as opposed to applied science tend to relegate experience-based, non-classroom learning to"a marginal and rather second-class status" that is "somehow suspect, as if 'real' academics don't do that sort of thing" (Moore, 2013, pp.1-2). The College of Science at Purdue University, in contrast, has legitimized experiential learning, encouraging students to make co-curricular high impact activities part of their overall academic plan and coaching them to elicit meaning from them. Students are rewarded at graduation for doing so.

The Value of Experience

Students in the College of Science have always worked with faculty and staff to develop career skills in our laboratories and classrooms. Today, however, students require other types of experience in order to be competitive in the global workplace. They are urged to take advantage of the opportunities to go beyond the walls of classrooms and labs and put their disciplines into practice in real world settings. In order to emphasize the importance attached to these experiences, students are provided with a roadmap of possibilities and guidance on how to get the most out of these opportunities. Moreover, College of Science faculty have demonstrated their support for experiential activities by recognizing participating students with a Learning Beyond the Classroom Certificate that is recorded on their Purdue academic transcripts. The recent Gallup-Purdue index found that"graduates who had high-impact educational experiences in college are...more likely to be engaged at work" (AAC&U News, 2014, p. 1). Out-of-classroom activities, such as internships and research, that allow college students to try out what they have learned in the classroom, result in graduates feeling better prepared for life ("Great Jobs Great Lives", 2014).

Undergraduate research, internships, and similar experiences have been characterized as high-impact educational practices (HIP) by Kuh and O'Donnell (2013). Among the characteristics common to HIP activities outside the classroom are:

* Experiences with diversity, wherein students are exposed to and must contend with people and circumstances that differ from those with which students are familiar

* Opportunities to integrate learning

* Opportunities to discover relevance of learning through real-world applications

* Public demonstration of competence

Although these conditions are not all met in every high-impact activity and their intensity varies even within the same type of activity, Kuh and O'Donnells' data show that the influence on students is uniformly positive as reflected in persistence, graduation rates, and desired learning outcomes. …

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