Experiential Learning, Problem Solving and Preparing Students to Invent the Future

Phil Ventimiglia, Chief Innovation Officer, Georgia State University
November 9, 2017

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”
– David A. Kolb, from Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development

Before coming to Georgia State University, I led the creation of an international technology product development center in Hyderabad, India. In Hyderabad, I also helped introduce a new international school to increase available educational options in the area. The school started small, with students from across grade levels often working together and helping to teach one another as part of an interactive curriculum. Through my involvement with opening the school, I got a close-up view of how effective it can be for student learning to integrate these kinds of hands-on and collaborative activities.

Experiential learning enables students to actively seek ways to grow their own knowledge by engaging in investigation, experimentation, problem solving and creativity. In higher education, when the right opportunities are available to students, experiential learning can also be aimed at better preparing students for the careers they’ll go into after graduation.

New technologies, like sensors and wireless connectivity in everyday objects, 3D printing and more, are significantly transforming the professional landscape Georgia State’s students will enter when they graduate. It’s estimated that 65% of students currently going into elementary school will ultimately enter jobs that don’t exist yet, and one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is finding professionals that can successfully master emerging and shifting technologies.

According to a recent publication from the Chronical of Higher Education, the top three skills employers want to see in graduates are communication, relevant technical skills and problem solving. To help our students succeed after graduation, it’s critical that students from all disciplines gain hands-on experience working collaboratively, developing digital solutions and solving real problems.

With the aim of providing students effective experiential learning opportunities, Instructional Innovation and Technology is providing students resources for digital problem solving and peer-assisted learning, as well as providing programs to help students gain professionally relevant experiences.

Resources for Problem Solving and Collaboration – EXLAB

This semester, the new EXLAB student makerspace officially opened. At EXLAB, students have access to the tools of the next digital revolution, from 3D printers that can help them create a custom model of a new idea, to sensors and micro-computers that allow them to interact with the “Internet of Things,” to software and virtual reality headsets for developing immersive educational and entertainment experiences. EXLAB provides students resources to create works to show potential employers and provides a complement to spaces like LaunchGSU, which support students in developing ideas into real solutions. Not all of the tools available at EXLAB are high-tech, but they were all selected to give students resources to learn to create and problem solve.

Today many innovation strategies are built around the concept of  “serendipitous collisions.” As such, EXLAB isn’t just a physical space, it’s a community hub. EXLAB offers peer-learning opportunities that help students extend what they learn in class. Students can work with peers who have varied expertise to come up with new ways of accomplishing tasks and solving problems. EXLAB encourages conversation by hosting student-lead workshops to help students learn how to use available resources and to provide opportunities for discussion and troubleshooting.

Programs to Gain Professional Experience: Digital Learners to Leaders

Funded by a grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation in collaboration with Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility, the Digital Learners to Leaders program will encourage students from diverse backgrounds to work with leading technology experts to create real technology solutions to benefit the local community by using digitization and the Internet of Things. Collaborative teams, composed of high school and Georgia State students seeking two-year and four-year degrees, will explore challenges posed by Atlanta’s education, business, government and non-profit organizations. Participants will expand their digital skillsets through workshops, online activities, mobile makerspaces, summer camps, an annual conference and internships.

The program will increase participants’ exposure to emerging technologies, while promoting excitement for students to pursue technology in more depth and become the technology-enabled inventors of the future.

There are more examples around the university of a growing number of programs that reach beyond the institution’s borders to help learners obtain experiences aimed at creating professional connections. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is, for instance, supporting the Alonzo A. Crim Center and Creative Media Industries Institute in partnering with the Atlanta Film Society to design learning experiences for the CINEMA program, which will prepare local opportunity youth for IT careers in Georgia’s growing media and entertainment industry.

The resources and programs Georgia State and IIT are introducing and supporting around experiential learning are designed to help students acquire the confidence and professional readiness that comes from engaging in self-motivated learning, collaboration, experimentation and problem-solving. They are designed to help Georgia State’s students graduate ready to meet the challenges of the next digital revolution and everything that comes next.

What are your thoughts? Send Phil a question or comment.