From Advocacy to Accountability in Experiential Learning Practices

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Sarah Wright of the University of Canterbury, Jeanie M. Forray of Western New England University, and Kathy Lund Dean of Gustavus Adolphus College. They recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “From advocacy to accountability in experiential learning practices,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly discuss the motivations for and challenges of this research:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

The motivation for our research emerged from our observations of student reactions to mismanaged facilitation of experiential exercises in the classroom. We have witnessed our students have quite adverse reactions to classroom exercises that we were not prepared for, nor trained to manage. We started to look for ethical guidance and were surprised by the lack of information for educators on best practices for experiential educators. Unlike research where methods are vetted before data is collected, educators can employ any teaching method with students based on the understanding that educators are competent in that learning environment. We were also perplexed how business schools are increasingly advocating for experiential education, but don’t seem to be balancing this advocacy with training opportunities for educators. So our motivation was borne out of curiosity and concern for student welfare.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

A single event sparked this research paper. I was sitting in my office, when I became aware that a large number of students were congregating in the corridor looking for information. They were first year students on a scavenger hunt to find information about university procedures. I heard a student become audibly upset; she was concerned that she could not find “the right answers” and would be penalised on her course grade. Other students rallied around her to help and they went back to class. At the end of the scavenger hunt the faculty deemed the scavenger hunt a success, yet the students were never given the opportunity to debrief nor voice their concerns over the experience. At the time of the incident we (the 3 authors) discussed the ethics of having students do exercises/experiences and not being fully debriefed, which expanded into conversations about what types of experiences are low/high-risk and what level of competence do we need to facilitate these experiences.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

We were really surprised that this issue hasn’t been addressed before now. The layers of assumptions behind educator competence really surprises us each time we discuss our research – we are expected to be competent at experiential education when no formal system exists to vet our competence.

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