Enhancing the Value of a University Education

This month, LX and BYU hosted two more sessions in the BYU/LX Experiential Learning Summit Series. In our second webinar, we discussed how to utilize universities to create value for students in the real world with two panelists- Dr. Michael Bednar (University of Illinois) and Dr. Jamin Rowan (Brigham Young University). It was a great discussion, and our panelists shared some very important insights and action steps for other programs or universities.

Redefining Higher Education

Confidence in higher education is decreasing. As tuition rates and the amount of content posted for free online continually increases, students are doubting the value of higher education, and it shows- students are consistently not prepared for real-world jobs after graduation. To maximize the value of brick-and-mortar universities, faculty must shift from content delivery into designing assignments, tools, and opportunities for students to be able to recognize and explain the value of their program to future employers. Project-based learning gives students opportunities to meet real-world clients and gain experience in team settings within their discipline. It is these opportunities that provide the most value- experiential learning is the key to redefining higher education as institutions for opportunity and experience.

Reflections are Key

Both panelists recognized the benefit of reflection assignments and encouraged other courses to implement them. Asking students to reflect on their project or experience abstracts the principles of the course and allows students to apply what they are learning to a real-world setting, regardless of if the course is remote or not. These assignments go beyond writing what the student did- it encourages students to think about who they are becoming and what they want to get out of future opportunities- a great tool to give students language for what they want to express in interviews.

Action Steps for Creating Value

Higher education can give students unique opportunities, but it is necessary for faculty to utilize these resources to create as much value as possible, in-person, or remote. The panelists left us with some key action steps that faculty and professors can take to their project-based courses.

Students need to be stakeholders in their projects. Project-based learning has the ability to engage students far more than sitting in lectures and turning in assignments. To successfully achieve a learning experience for the students, there needs to be real deliverables with real stakes for the team and for the client. Projects that matter means students want to achieve end results more than achieving a passing grade.

Assignments can benefit students when they are built around assessing problems, teamwork, or telling their story. These give students the tools and language necessary for growth and for recognizing their progress. Dr. Rowan recommends having course objectives be phrases like “creativity and curiosity” that can be reflected on and applied to any sort of experience outside of coursework.

Leverage university resources. When students are engaged as stakeholders, others will be more invested in the teams. Utilize graduate students to act as project managers, giving undergraduates not only project experience but also an older student to gain insights from. Connect with your alumni network to see if any alumni or businesses are willing to act as mentors or clients. These connections and support systems are what increases the value of higher education far more than any content delivery.

Our next webinars in the BYU/LX Experiential Learning Summit Series will take place on November 13th at where we discuss how faculty can demonstrate the value of their experiential learning efforts, how to gain internal buy-in from key stakeholders and research opportunities for experiential learning in any discipline. Registration links can be found at https://experience.byu.edu/experiential-learning-summit-2020