Connect 360: The Eagle Experience

Our Campus Quality Enhancement Plan:  Connect 360

In 2017 this campus initiated a broad academic plan to enhance student learning by incorporating more experiential and service learning methods in coursework. The broad implementation strategy has been endorsed by our accrediting agency, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and is governed by the Office of the Provost/Vice President of Academic Affairs and Campus Steering Committee

Known as Connect 360: The Eagle Experience, the purpose of the program is for students to connect course content at the junior and senior level more directly with actual societal problems, needs, and authentic contexts in which professionals practice.  Students learn so much more deeply and recall content when they are actively engaged in applying the theory, principles and concepts of a course. This program is faculty-driven; the faculty of each discipline determine the courses most conducive to using EL and faculty undergo specialized training in how to design or redesign courses according to the principles of the National Society of Experiential Education. Our campus chose to focus on using these five primary forms of Experiential Learning:  

  • Internships
  • Service learning projects
  • Field work related to the student’s major
  • Undergraduate research
  • Study-Abroad (International Studies) opportunities.

All undergraduate degree programs at this campus now infuse a strong experiential learning component in at least one course.  Moreover, some programs, such as Nursing and Education, incorporate experiential learning in authentic contexts of practice throughout the program, starting with the initial semester in which a student is enrolled. Courses containing a service learning (SL) or experiential learning (EL) component carry that designation as part of the course title and are clearly noted in the course schedule each time they are offered.

In addition to experiential learning, many programs have used other “High-Impact Practices (HIPS)” for quite some time; HIPS have become quite prominent on American college campuses in recent decades. HIPS are methods of teaching directed toward freshman and sophomore students for the purpose of developing greater critical thinking and strong communication skills, such as a common reader for enriched discussions, learning communities, international study excursions and other common intellectual activities.

Why was Experiential Learning selected for our Quality Enhancement Plan?

Research on teaching and learning in higher education shows that Experiential Learning and other “High Impact Practices” have multiple, long-term benefits for students and future employers of students (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2015; Bronwell & Swaner, 2010; NSSE, 2007; Kuh, 2008) . Through EL students will:

  • Learn and recall course content at a deeper level
  • Gain better grades and persist through college
  • Interact more with faculty on projects
  • Develop greater critical thinking and writing skills
  • Gain professional confidence and network with professionals in their field

Today’s workplace requires that college graduates be able to readily apply the most current knowledge, collaborate with others, work across disciplinary lines, and communicate productively (Hart Research and Associates, 2013). EL and HIPS produce the types of skills employers want and need in the contemporary workplace.  

QEP Director and Chair of Steering Committee: Dr. Gaynell Green, Associate Professor of Adult and Higher Education

Campus Governance for the QEP: Office of the Provost/Vice President of Academic Affairs and Campus Steering Committee

For additional information visit the QEP Website.