Campus Life Spotlight: Firsts and experimentation on campus!

Posted on Sep 6, 2011

There is a buzz on campus today: it's the first day of classes of the fall semester! Not only is it the first day of classes, but for over 300 first year students it is their first day of college. After moving into the residence halls last weekend, participating in the Weekend of Welcome and Labor Day Weekend activities, students settle in this morning to a plethora of courses designed to help them navigate their liberal arts educational experience.

For many of our students, coming to UW-Superior is a real adventure and change of pace. Whether it is a traditional age student from small town Wisconsin or Minnesota, or an international student coming from across the world, UWS is a land of firsts and experimentation. As educators on campus, we may observe those firsts and experimentation in a variety of ways: students of different backgrounds talking after classes, trying new foods at the World Flavors station in the YU Café, attending a program about sexuality during the Weekend of Welcome, engaging in first-time alcohol drinking, or dating a fellow new student. We hear stories from students and can observe these behaviors both in their curricular and co-curricular lives on campus.

Experiential learning is at the heart of firsts and experimentation on campus. Kolb (1984) defines the cycle of experiential learning in four stages. The first stage, concrete experience (CE), is when a student has a new experience that they've never done before. These are typically feeling experiences. This could be when they experiment with alcohol for the first time, go to a college class for the first time, or take the DTA bus across campus for the first time. Second, the student enters reflective observation (RO). During this phase, a student might think about their experience from multiple perspectives. They might think about what their first time in a college class was like from the professor's point of view, the fellow students, or talk with their friends at other campuses. This might also involve them actually observing other students engaging in similar behavior. The third stage, abstract conceptualization (AC) is when a student thinks concretely about their experience and decides if they are going to engage in those actions again in the future. In the experience of riding the Duluth Transit Authority bus for the first time, a student might think about the benefits they received from using public transportation to get around the Twin Ports. They might also think about the benefits of using this service into the future, such as during wintertime. The last stage, active experimentation (AE), is when all of the previous thoughts and reflections transform into "doing into the future". This is when a student decides to create action from their thought processes, such as asking someone to go on a date, or going to a party.

As educators, it is important for us to recognize that this cycle of experiential learning is alive and well on our campus. College students, especially first year students, are eager to experiment, test boundaries, try new things, and create new personas for themselves. Within a liberal arts environment, we seek to create opportunities for multiple perspectives to be shared and enjoyed, a lot of which is done through firsts and experimentation.

How can you help your students actively engage in the campus community and experiment in safe and educational ways? Encourage your residence hall students to attend their first floor meetings tonight, experience the Twin Ports from the Vista Cruise and dance Friday night, put together a team for intramurals this fall, and learn more about student orgs and activities at Jacket Fest next week!

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Princeton Hall.

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Photo © 2011 Karin Kirk