Experiential Learning Across the Curriculum
The need to provide both breadth and depth of experience across the life span guided curriculum revision in 2006. Creation of program outcomes directed expectations across the major, from entry-level courses to senior- level course work. Starting students out in their comfort zone, necessary courses taken early in the major require observation of children from birth to age five. The next level of course work sends students into the community to interact with older children and adolescents who are culturally and/or socio-economically different from them.
The requirement of a practicum experience separate from and prior to internship was designed to continue the breadth of experience begun in the lower-level classes, as well as to begin focusing on professional awareness of attitudes, practices, and expectations. In addition to weekly class meetings, students complete two different experiences of 60 hours each at assigned sites in the local community. Students begin the semester at one site and are rotated to a new assignment at mid-semester. Every student completes one rotation working with elders, a population the majority of students have no experience with and often many pre-conceived ideas. The other rotation depends upon the student’s interests and previous experiences. The aim is consistently to broaden students’ experiences across the life span and with individuals and families different from themselves. Practicum requirements guide students in their interactions with their on-site supervisor, with self-reflection, professional behaviors, and expectations. Graduation exit interviews have evinced that the experience, learning, and insight gained through the two practicum placements positively influences the choices students make regarding their internship. The overall results of the practicum influence are a stronger commitment to family life education and the applicability of skills and networking opportunities through the internship experience.
For the traditional-age college student, experience across the life span typically comes from jobs such as babysitting, day care, and after school child-care. Experience working with adults and elders is limited, usually to onetime volunteer events. Students are required to take three semesters of developmental course work across the life span. In the course of these semesters, human systems theories, physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development, are covered, and students are required to complete observations and assignments which require them to interact with adolescents and adults on simple projects.