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Making the Most of Immersion

Engaging Faculty to Maximize the Impact of Off-Campus Experiential Learning

High-impact practices have transformed undergraduate education. Among these practices is immersive or experiential learning — study abroad/away, community engagement, and internships. Research suggests that students make the strongest learning gains from high-impact practices when they apply metacognitive skills, critical observation, analysis, and reflection, and test the alignment between theory and practice. To maximize the value of experiential learning, it is imperative that ACM faculty gain expertise to guide students in developing and using metacognitive skills.

To build this capacity, a team from Beloit, Carleton, and St. Olaf will organize two multidisciplinary summer workshops in 2018-19 and develop an online community of practice and innovation. Participating faculty will engage in experiential learning and examine evidence-based approaches that prepare students for study abroad/away programs, course-based community engagement, and credit-bearing internships.

The project will bring faculty with long involvement in experiential education together with early-career faculty. As these faculty members learn together, they will improve and sustain their own experiential programs and disseminate what they learn on their home campuses.

Ultimately, this project will enhance student learning and secure the investments liberal arts colleges make in off-campus high-impact learning practices.

Note: Content adapted from original project proposal.


Project goal

Our project aims to address these challenges by creating a yearlong learning community and online resources to enable ACM faculty to become knowledgeable about best practices for maximizing the immediate and long-term impact of off-campus experiential learning.

In our project, faculty will use experiential learning principles, shown by the research literature to be applicable across different types of immersive learning, to:

  • Design reflective activities to promote critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and metacognition
  • Develop sustainable, respectful partnerships with organizations and practitioner-scholars beyond campus
  • Promote interdisciplinary approaches to understandin,
  • Create valid assessments, guided by AAC&U VALUE rubrics

The project team will facilitate two summer workshops and check in with participants during the intervening academic year.

Workshop 1

Participants will select an existing course/program and use scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) literature to create assignments that prompt critical reflection and metacognitive analysis, and plans to assess their impact.

Between Workshop 1 and 2

Teams of participants working on similar immersive learning projects will communicate with each other and the project team as they implement their plans. They will work with their campuses to plan an activity to share resources and ideas with colleagues.

Workshop 2

Participants will present and receive feedback on their assignments and contribute material to our digital teaching resource. They will draft abstracts and other proposals for disseminating the results.


Our project will foster faculty collaboration and innovation in three ways:

  1. Workshop 1 and 2: We will organize two workshops and an online community of practice to enable a core group of 14 ACM faculty (led by a project team of 6 experienced faculty) to design, implement, and assess assignments that optimize their students’ immersive off-campus learning.
  2.  “Seeding” Strategy: We will use this strategy which allows the core group to collaborate with teaching and learning centers on their home campuses and plan an activity (to be reported during Workshop 2).
  3. Digital Archive: We will create new resources for a digital archive, available to all ACM faculty intent upon enhancing the value of immersive learning for students.


Our intention is to address gaps in the literature by focusing on the unique issues addressed in our project:

  • Transferability of learning across different types of immersive experiences
  • Use of metacognition and reflection in community-engaged and service learning
  • Use of metacognitive approaches by staff working with students in study abroad offices and career development centers


Pending Schedule of June/August 2017 Workshops

September 2017: Solicit applications across the ACM, aiming for 1 per college.

November 2017: Select participants, first for diversity in type of immersive experience (aiming for three subgroups of approximately equal size), followed by discipline, then prior experience.

January 2018: Survey selected participants to gather information about their expertise related to the project, gaps they would like to fill, and any resources/texts they would suggest for the workshop.

January-May 2018: Use survey results to finalize plans for mid-June 2018 workshop and develop a project website with information and resources.

Mid-June 2018 | Workshop 1: Design an individual project for the year, read/learn from SOTL sources, develop assessment plans for the individual projects, work in 3 smaller groups and as a larger group of 14 + project team.

2018-19 Academic Year: Small group check-ins throughout the year (2 members of the project team will be responsible for checking in with each smaller group), on-campus presentations/mini-workshops.

March-May 2019: Project team reviews smaller groups’ progress and finalizes plans for Workshop 2.

Mid-June 2019 | Workshop 2: Upload assignments, report back about individual projects and academic year “seeding” activities, draft abstracts for submission to relevant conferences, explore/develop other means of dissemination.

July 2019: Write final report of activities, take-away, and suggestions for next steps. Deposit new resources in electronic repository via ACM FaCE portal, considering issues of confidentiality and copyright.


Each workshop will involve 20 participants, 6 of them organizers from Beloit College, Carleton College, and St. Olaf College. Our aim is to have participation across the ACM membership, and to do an open call to solicit interest and applications. Applicants will be asked to demonstrate:

  • Commitment to designing and implementing a substantial immersive learning experience for an existing or new course or program
  • Interest in engaging with a learning community over the course of the project
  • Commitment to assessment, both of project design and student learning outcomes
  • Dissemination of lessons from the project on the home campus, including willingness to mentor faculty interested in incorporating immersive learning experiences into their teaching

Applicants will also be asked to discuss their experience with immersive learning experiences (as participants, designers, and/or facilitators) and their familiarity with related theory.

Additional information on participant priorities for the workshop will be collected by survey in January 2018 to assist with workshop planning.

Participants will form three teams (organized by immersive learning type and/or disciplinary focus), each mentored by two organizers.

Outcomes and Significance

At the end of Workshop 1

Participants will have developed a preliminary plan to implement and assess experiential learning pedagogy in an existing course or program.

At the end of the 2018-19 academic year

Participants will have collaborated with their campuses to give a presentation about their individual project or offer a mini-workshop to share resources and ideas with their colleagues.

At the end of Workshop 2

The project team will oversee development of an online ACM archive of resources for off-campus experiential learning. The archive of pre-program, immersion, and reflection activities will extend the benefits beyond the workshop participants.

Anticipated outcomes include enhanced faculty knowledge about metacognition and its role in maximizing experiential learning. This knowledge will lead to more effective advising, pre-departure orientations, on-site activities, and post-program activities.

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