Assign Collaborative Experiential Learning while Partnering with Clients

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While there is sometimes resistance to group collaborations in online learning (Smith et al., 2011), adding a collaborative experiential learning component can more deeply engage students AND provide them the opportunity to develop an array of competencies including “coordinating across time zones and geographic locations, developing computer skills, enhancing internet search skills, and interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds” (Johnson, 2013, p. 34). Group work in an online course can also serve to equip students with “time management, decision making and problem solving and critical thinking” skills which will transfer well to their other academic pursuits and enhance their lifelong learning (pp. 34- 35).

Experiential learning can contribute to a more engaging learning experience for online students, making them more invested in the authenticity of the task assigned. They can therefore more readily expand their educational experiences beyond that of the typical canned assignment by employing creativity as they apply what they have learned in class to real life situations. This type of learning can also provide them with marketable skill sets that will benefit them long after they complete their undergraduate degrees (Beckem & Watkins, 2012; Meyer, 2014). In 2011, a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study of employers determined that the top five most desired qualities in potential hires included the ability to work with a team, which was closely followed by skills that prepared them to: to “verbally communicate with people inside and outside the organization; make decisions and solve problems; obtain and process information and to plan, organize and prioritize work” (Head et al., 2013, p 79-80). All of these valuable skills can be developed and/or refined during collaborative experiential learning.

Additionally, since online students can struggle with not feeling connected to their institutions (Meyer, 2014) authentic experiential learning that involves partnering with campus “clients” can bridge this gap and better tether online students to their institution while simultaneously engaging them in meaningful online coursework.

Link to example artifact(s)

When teaching her Library Informatics 414 (Advanced Information Literacy) course in spring 2013, Mary Todd Chesnut observed that the students demonstrated heightened interest in a case study assignment where they conducted research for a fictitious campus administrator. The following spring, Chesnut deepened the scope of the assignment by soliciting research requests from actual departments at her institution and assigning her students the task of conducting authentic research in small groups for a campus “client”. The assignment culminated in them submitting a worksheet detailing their group experiences and also synthesizing their research results into an executive summary and annotated bibliography of 10 sources for the campus client. This assignment engaged the students and enabled them to practice online research skills, a competency which had been previously identified in a 2012 study of employers conducted by Project Information Literacy as a strong expectation when recruiting college graduates. (Head, 2012, p 8).

This experiential learning empowered the LIN 414 students to engage collaboratively and diligently, cognizant that their work would ultimately impact real departments. The community clients were subsequently afforded free research on a topic that could enhance their operations. In the first year, all four student groups conducted research for one topic (Greek housing) for one community client, The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. The Director of this department commented after the experience that “The project was very helpful for us, because it gave us a good foundation of existing material to start talking about the costs/benefits of fraternity and sorority housing. “ The students reacted favorably as well, and the assignment successfully met the instructor’s learning objective (working collaboratively to identify, research, evaluate, and synthesize a research need) making it a win-win endeavor.

In the spring of 2015, due to the success of the first teaching experiment, the instructor solicited research topics from three different departments on Campus (University Connect and Persist (UCAP), The Early Childhood Center, and Health, Counseling and Student Wellness) and assigned a different research topic to each small group, further broadening the scope of outreach to campus.

The following assignment artifacts can be downloaded below:

This experiential learning assignment ultimately achieved a number of goals. It connected online students to the institution more deeply through the experience of researching for campus departments; provided an authentic collaborative learning experience for the students that afforded them valuable online research experience; and benefited the campus by providing research for campus departments.

This type of collaboration with community clients is certainly not limited to the library informatics discipline. An assignment of this nature could certainly span a myriad of disciplines and be applicable in a number of different contexts. Rather than conducting research, students in various disciplines might alternatively provide marketing assistance, webpage creation, survey development, or other “products” for campus departments as part of their coursework.

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Beckem II, J. M., & Watkins, M. (2012). Bringing life to learning: Immersive experiential learning simulations for online and blended courses. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(5), 61-70.

Head, A. (2012). Learning curve: How college graduates solve information problems once they join the workplace. Project Information Literacy.

Head, A., Eschler, J., & Fullerton, S. (2013). What information competencies matter in today’s workplace? Library and Information Research, 37(114), 75-104.

Johnson, K. (2013). Facilitating cooperative learning in online and blended courses: An example from an integrated marketing communications course. American Journal of Business Education (Online), 6(1), 33.

Meyer, K. A. (2014). Student engagement in online learning: What works and why. ASHE Higher Education Report, 40(6), 1-114. doi:10.1002/aehe.20018

Smith, G. G., Sorensen, C., Gump, A., Heindel, A. J., Caris, M., & Martinez, C. D. (2011). Overcoming student resistance to group work: Online versus face-to-face. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(2), 121-128.


Chesnut, M. (2016). Assign collaborative experiential learning while partnering with clients. In B. Chen & K. Thompson (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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