The Institutional Effectiveness - Teaching Connection, #111

Assessment of Experiential Learning

February 2021

Internships, service learning, research projects, and other forms of experiential education can make important contributions to student learning, and these activities can serve as an important basis for assessment efforts. Some potential benefits of experiential learning include practice work experience, exposure to real-world problems, and practicing critical thinking, communication, and diversity and inclusion skills. Both alumni and employers point to experiential learning as critical for students' career preparation. 

Despite its high potential as a basis for learning and a vehicle for assessment, there is substantial variation in experiential learning's role in assessment. Student teaching, clinicals, performances, exhibits, peer-reviewed conference and publication proposals, and projects prepared for external partners serve as critically-important avenues for assessment in many disciplines, but some others do not discuss it at all in assessment reports.

The difficulties in cataloging experiential learning participation and their associated learning goals, carrying out meaningful assessment, and reporting upon its results at the institutional level are confounded by experiential learning activities being embedded in "regular" courses that are not designated as internships, undergraduate research, etc. Thus, knowledge of experiential learning often rests only at the program or even the course level. 

The 2020 Hanover Research Report

A June 2020 report by Hanover Research, Best Practices in Measuring Experiential Learning, examined approaches at institutions recognized for strong experiential learning efforts. The result was the following key conclusions:

  • No single best measure for experiential education exists.
  • Metrics should be developed based on the goals of specific individual experiential education activities.
  • Tools for evaluating experiential learning activities should take multiple forms and involve all stakeholders.

The Hanover Research report also provided specific recommendations concerning measurement, including:

  • Clearly establish goals against which to measure experiential education programs.
  • Take advantage of existing surveys and other tools to enhance program measurements.
  • Measure success with community partners through a survey.

Some additional assessment resources cited by the Hanover Research report include the following: 

Recommendations From the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment recommends the following sources of assessment from experiential learning experiences:

  • Direct assessment methods: supervisor feedback, portfolios, project- or case-based exams, reports
  • Indirect assessment methods: student feedback (surveys, interviews, journals; responses to institutional surveys such as the National Survey of Student Engagement [NSSE])

Faculty- and/or supervisor-developed rubrics are often a very useful tool for evaluating student work produced as part of experiential learning opportunities. Unfortunately, the trend of supervisors at external organizations becoming more hesitant to offer candid feedback hampers assessment efforts.

The time frame for assessment can be short-term (e.g., end-of-experience data collection and evaluation) or long-term (e.g., graduation, employment, graduate school acceptance, licensing, other professional outcomes), but it is increasingly difficult to attribute downstream outcomes to specific experiences the more time passes.

Another aspect of experiential learning assessment can be the extent to which activities meet the needs of external partners in service learning-type activities. Miami's new Division of ASPIRE (Advancing Strategy, Partnerships, Institutional Relations, and the Economy) serves as an excellent resource and is anxious to partner with academic and cocurricular programs in doing this work.

 

Miami faculty and staff members who would like to receive a copy of the Hanover Research report should contact the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness.

The Institutional Effectiveness - Teaching Connection (formerly known as Assessment Briefs) is a collaborative product of the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness (OIRE) and the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). The Connection's goal is to translate institutional data into considerations for improving teaching and learning at Miami.