Learning Through Experience
Sharing our successes with experiential learning at UNB

Curriculum mapping project explore experiential learning in science courses

Author: Hala Nasir

Posted on Feb 11, 2022

Category: Student Champions

Experiential learning is a timely and topical area of research.  Experiential learning presents the idea that valuable learning happens when students are engaged in authentic experiences, and that students build deep knowledge through intentional reflection on those experiences. Experiential learning is an example of high-impact learning, allowing students to apply their learning far beyond the classroom setting.

The Science Experiential Learning Curriculum Mapping Project is part of UNB's path to implementing the strategic vision, Toward 2030. UNB aspires to provide experiential learning to all students and to being a university of impact through excellence in research and transformative pedagogy.

The Office of Experiential Education has partnered with the Faculty of Science (Fredericton campus) in launching this project, led by the Director of the Office of Experiential Education, Dr. Sarah King, and the Associate Dean of Science, Dr. Ben Newling, with the help of the Science Experiential Learning Curriculum Mapping assistant, Hala Nasir.

Our goal with this project is to understand how lab courses in the Faculty of Science use experiential learning principles and practices. We first began our analysis by identifying our research/mapping question: which science lab courses should be included within UNB’s inventory of experiential learning courses?

Once the scope of our project was solidified, this allowed us to further develop an outreach and data collection framework. The approach we developed consists of 30-minute interviews with science lab course instructors in the Faculty of Science, specifically from the Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Earth-Science departments. By developing this framework, we were able to begin collecting in-depth qualitative data to further analyze the Faculty of Science's lab-based courses alignment with the principles of experiential learning. We were interested in looking at the main elements of experiential education: academic content, authentic experience, and reflection. Following the interviews, data are transcribed, analyzed, and coded.

Based on our preliminary findings, UNB science lab courses demonstrate moderate to high alignment with the academic and authentic components of experiential education. For example, the Research Skills lab course provided within the Physics department exemplifies a great template of experiential education. It demonstrates an authentic experience through allowing students to independently explore experimentation in a realistic process. Through this course, students are encouraged to encounter the ambiguity and uncertainty that is unforeseen when engaging in something experimental.

Another lab course that exemplifies a quality experiential learning opportunity is shown through the Human Physiology lab courses provided within the Department of Biology. This lab course provides students with the opportunity to learn and apply the concepts they gain clinically. This course teaches and prepares future nurses and heath care professionals’ various concepts within human physiology that will be relevant in a clinical setting. This includes labs that allow students to explore what you would see in a urine analysis, how to take blood pressure, understanding ECG machines etc.

As we continue collecting data and interviewing lab course instructors, we plan on compiling a report of this project which will include the general findings from the data collected in relation to experiential learning principles and practices, as well as addressing potential areas of improvement that can be implemented. Overall, this project will allow us to identify lab courses in the Faculty of Science that should be included in UNB’s list of experiential learning courses. This information will allow UNB to capture the number of students participating in experiential learning more accurately and track our progress towards our strategic vision goals. This project also offers a framework for other faculties, departments, and universities as they assess their own practices of curricular experiential learning. We look forward to making our framework and findings available to other stakeholders and interested parties.