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ERIC Number: EJ1082026
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013
Assessing Rigor in Experiential Education: A Working Model from Partners in the Parks
MacLean, John S.; White, Brain J.
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, v14 n1 p101-108 Spr-Sum 2013
Assessment has become a popular buzzword on academic campuses over the last few decades. Most assessment models are designed to evaluate traditional learning structures. If we were to state simply the process of assessment, it might read like this: (1) what you want the students to learn; (2) how you want to teach the material; and (3) how you know if the students learned the material. In a traditional pedagogical environment, for example, an instructor might want the students to learn how early geologists deduced the influence of glaciation in the Sierra Mountains from striations on polished granite surfaces. The teacher would design a lecture that presents the information, and then he or she might create a test or project to find out whether the students retained the material in a useful way. One could argue that current assessment strategies are often designed to validate rather than assess traditional pedagogical practices, leaving little room for the development of teaching and learning practices that might radically deviate from the norm. Honors programs and honors education, however, have long been defined as educational experiences that push traditional pedagogical boundaries in numerous ways. Just ask any honors director or sample the website of any honors program and you will find evidence in support of such claims. Both the NCHC-affiliated Partners in the Parks program and City as Text™ experiences push the boundaries of traditional learning models even further by incorporating experiential education in their core design. Experiential education practices are logistically difficult to assess using conventional evaluation models given the prevalence of unexpected "teachable moments" and unpredictable learning opportunities. If instructors cannot anticipate what students will experience and learn, then they have less control over outcomes. In short, designing assessment models without having solid control over the content or the methods of content-delivery is tricky. This article offers one model of an assessment strategy for experiential education programs based on the 2012 Partners in the Parks adventure in Sequoia National Park, where the authors qualitatively measured the rigor of this week-long program by requiring participants to propose interdisciplinary honors research projects that combined the students' chosen fields of study with their sometimes unpredictable learning moments and experiences. The benefits and results of experiential education can be unpredictable, but experiential education practitioners can prepare for unexpected results by designing assessments that allow students to show what they learned rather than by prescribing a limiting curriculum.
Descriptors: Honors Curriculum, College Students, College Faculty, Educational Assessment, Qualitative Research, Interdisciplinary Approach, Research Projects, Difficulty Level, Parks, Experiential Learning
National Collegiate Honors Council. 1100 Neihardt Residence Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 540 North 16th Street, Lincoln, NE 68588. Tel: 402-472-9150; Fax: 402-472-9152; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: http://nchchonors.org
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: California
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A