Courses and programs may be designed with the best intentions, but it is important to evaluate experiential learning (EL) opportunities to ensure your goals and objectives are being met. You can collect quantitative and/or qualitative data to assess how aspects of the opportunity are measuring up to your pre-defined metrics of success. Feedback and evaluations from students and partners, if applicable, and practitioner reflections should be iteratively and continuously reviewed and actioned to make improvements to the EL opportunity, reduce barriers and ensure sustainability.
Student experiences in an experiential learning opportunity may shape their understanding of an academic discipline, future career or educational pathway. The resulting effect of an experience may impact continued and future participation in EL. Similarly, the experience of the partner(s) involved in the EL opportunity may impact the likelihood of future participation and sustained relationships. While it is natural to focus on areas of improvement, it is also important to recognize what you have done well and commit to continuing in those areas.
- Make note of students who express negative experiences during check-ins, site visits or reflective assignments. If you employ Teaching Assistants or receive support from another staff member in managing the EL opportunity, ask them to record and share their notes with you. Consider whether there are any patterns and shared experiences and follow up with students where appropriate to learn more about their participation in the opportunity.
- Seek insights from partners to learn about challenges or highlights. This could include distributing an end of experience survey and/or setting up a retrospective meeting with partners. The Experiential Learning and Outreach Support Office (Faculty of Arts & Science) or your divisional EL office can support you in developing and/or facilitating these types of “end of experience” evaluations.
- If students report feeling uncomfortable or unsafe in partner organizations or locations, think carefully about the value of continued partnership. In some cases, it may be necessary to pause or end the partnership. Share complaints regarding employers and community partners with the Experiential Learning and Outreach Support Office (Faculty of Arts & Science) or your divisional EL office, who can support you in escalating concerns, as appropriate, to relevant campus offices such as Career Exploration & Education and the Office of High Risk, Faculty Support & Mental Health in the Faculty of Arts & Science.
- When relevant, provide students and partners with regular updates about how the EL opportunity has been changed or improved in response to feedback, as this can in turn encourage individuals to share their insights and feel engaged in the process.
- Create an advisory committee with representation from all relevant stakeholders (e.g., students, partners, etc.) to help assess outcomes and to guide EL program development and improvements. Try to ensure that equity-deserving students are involved in the committee.
- Provide an anonymous forum for all students to be able to share feedback about the opportunity. Where appropriate, consider providing additional opportunities to hear from equity-deserving students through surveys or group roundtables. Consider remunerating students for more intensive requests on their time and labour.
As you work to integrate EDIA in EL opportunities, it is important to measure the success of your EDIA specific goals and objectives. For example, if one of your goals was to have a diversity of students engage in the opportunity, examine the demographic participation and retention in your program to see if you met this objective, and notice any trends in the data. If there are any concerning trends, you may want to leverage this knowledge to make changes for future opportunities. Using a mixed-methods approach to gather data may be helpful. Quantitative data can provide initial insight that can be further refined with qualitative approaches to determine which students are accessing EL opportunities and which are not.
- Regularly analyze who is participating in your EL opportunities, keeping in mind participation rates for equity-deserving students. The University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education has developed a resource (Equity-Minded Data Tools) which provides examples of accountability measures that can be leveraged to address equity gaps.
- Evaluation should account for individual student experiences as they relate to your EDIA goals and outcomes (Allen, Strumbos & Clay, 2014). Include a student survey or evaluation at the end of the opportunity to address these experiences. A sampling of potential quantitative and qualitative survey questions is provided below:
Table 1: Sample Quantitative and Qualitative Survey Questions
|Quantitative Questions (e.g., Likert Scale, Yes/No)||Qualitative Questions (e.g., Open Text)|
|Preparation||Did you feel the pre-experience EL training and/or curriculum adequately prepared you for the EL opportunity?||What would have helped you feel more prepared for the EL opportunity if anything?|
|Inclusion||Did you feel a sense of inclusion and belonging in the EL opportunity?||What would have made you feel a greater sense of inclusion and belonging if anything?|
|Barriers||Did you experience any barriers at any point throughout your EL opportunity?||If yes, what were they? What helped or what would have been helpful to overcome the barrier(s)?|
|Supports||If you experienced barriers, were you aware of who and/or where you could obtain support to help address your barrier(s)?||If you reached out for support, who did you connect with and what was the outcome?|
|Changes||Are there changes that could have been made to better support your participation in the EL opportunity?||If yes, please describe what changes would have helped to better support your participation.|
- Consult with equity offices at the University of Toronto and/or the Faculty of Arts & Science Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) (or other Divisional EDI contacts if appropriate), as they may be able to suggest modifications to your current practices. They may also be able to provide advice on inclusive language for reflective assignments or evaluation surveys.
Advancing EDIA is an iterative process, and there will always be space to make improvements. Similarly, reflection should be an ongoing process, though it is common for individuals to focus on this at the end of an experience. Formal evaluation may provide a lot of data, but your own reflections can also provide valuable insight into EDIA within your EL opportunity. Reflecting will allow you to take time to meaningfully explore future directions.
- Holistically consider the information available to you, from formal surveys and evaluation to informal communication and anecdotal evidence from students and partners. Use this to explore if there are changes you can make to your opportunity. You can connect with the Experiential Learning and Outreach Support Office (ELOS) for support.
- When reflecting consider leveraging Brookfield’s (1998) four critical lenses for reflection, which include the self, the student, your colleagues and theoretical literature, which together provide an opportunity to become aware of one’s EL practices and their potential implications.
- Think about how your own positionality affects your own reflections. It is natural to feel uncomfortable when thinking about power and privilege. The discomfort we feel can be moments of learning. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, question your feelings and consider how unconscious biases might influence program design, and therefore impact students’ access and experience (Malatest, 2018).
- Acknowledge that you cannot control whether you will make mistakes — you will make mistakes. However, you can control how you react when you make an error, how you might work to rectify the issue and what changes you will make moving forward.
- Make a commitment to include others in your reflection process; consider discussing aspects of your program, practice and process collaboratively with your team, your supervisor, a colleague or the Experiential Learning & Outreach Support Office (Faculty of Arts & Science) or your divisional EL office. Peer-to-peer learning and conversations with your colleagues can be incredibly valuable for EL practitioners to discuss challenges and ideate solutions.