Top Hat

Out with boring lectures, in with experiential learning

By Ben Viner April 12, 2023

Things have been busy the past few weeks. During this last month of the semester, it can be incredibly easy to let the time slip away. Midterms for many classes are over, and the last few homework assignments are reaching their deadlines as well. I’m not an expert, but I’d say most students aren’t in love with living lecture to lecture, assignment to assignment, and exam to exam. So why should we be paying thousands of dollars to attend one of the best technical institutions in the country for the same old learning experience we could get anywhere else? The more students who connect with their education, the more it will prepare us for after graduation.

What is experiential education?

We all know the classic lecture, homework, and exam course structure. Unfortunately, not too many students have experienced classes where they can interact with what they’re learning. Experiential education is incorporating more activities, projects, and hands-on components into our otherwise boring classes.

In engineering and science, this means more lab and research exposure, more fabrication and manufacturing, or analyzing real experimental data. In business and architecture, imagine conducting more real-life case studies and speaking with more professionals—not just reading publications.

For an example of incorporating experiential education into our many curriculums at RPI, we can look at the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. An initiative called “Gameful Learning” has recently been a focus for Christopher Jeansonne, lecturer of Communication and Media. In short, Gameful Learning seeks to use “cutting-edge principles of game design to the design of learning experiences.” This means changing the rules and incentives of traditional courses to encourage learning over memorization. Rather than spending hours studying for an exam, students can use that time to experience real-life applications of course material, providing them with a skillset they will retain long after the course ends.

How are we going to do that?

Before my term began as Grand Marshal, I was the chairperson of the Academic Affairs Committee. Implementing experiential learning was a project our committee previously looked into. Earlier this semester, I met with Acting Provost and former Dean of HASS Mary Simoni. At this meeting, I learned that Gameful Learning was recently tested in a few engineering courses including Heat Transfer and Aerospace Structures. The support for this course style was overwhelming from both students and professors. Of course, no courses have exclusively adopted this style yet, but that is our next goal.

We have incredible talent within our student body, faculty, and staff. We have student groups like the Engineering and Science Ambassadors, whose entire mission is to teach STEM to K-12 students in a hands-on fashion. We have professors who have been teaching for decades and understand the ins and outs of successful teaching practices. On top of everything, our clubs and student groups would thrive from gaining members with more technical experience as well as more soft skills. These students have the skillset and the drive to help make this initiative a reality for all students. Passionate student groups, in partnership with Student Government and academic administration, have the ability to create content that can be used to improve courses at RPI.

Experiential education is a crucial component of the learning process as it allows students to gain practical, hands-on experience in their field of study. This type of education provides an opportunity for students to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world situations, helping us develop critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and practical skills. By engaging in experiential learning, we can deepen our understanding of complex concepts, develop confidence in our abilities, and prepare ourselves for future employment. Experiential education also allows for the integration of interdisciplinary knowledge and the cultivation of social and emotional skills, making it a valuable tool for personal and professional development. With the incredible talent at RPI, we can use passionate students and professors to achieve a better learning experience and prepare students for success after graduation.