Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at email@example.com or visit her website: Acts of Composition
As educators, we recognize the value of experiential learning – learning that becomes deeper as students move up the ladder of abstraction towards synthesis, application and other high-level processes of thinking. The term, experiential learning, was originally defined by educational psychologist, David Kolb, as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience." So, it is not enough to simply have an experience. Instead, Kolb suggests that students must “transform” the experience through understanding, connecting and reflecting. He goes on to identify the “concrete experience” that involves hands-on, sensory participation and “reflective observation” in which we work to complicate and make meaning of our experiences.
Similarly, in digital writing and online spaces, we hear the term “immersive experiences” that involve writers and readers into a “mixed reality” in virtual spaces. These can take the form of video games that simulate worlds, high tech VR technology, and interactive content, but we can broadly understand them as any virtual relationship in which the audience is actively involved through participation or engagement. Essentially, immersive experiences create environments that make readers feel like they are part of them through sensory or exploratory content. Since digital writing is also non-linear, writers can create paths of inquiry and exploration in ways that traditional writing does not. Even following a link, playing a video, or enlarging an image offers audiences some level of participation, exploration, and interaction. When we view content online, we often look for some replication of reality and opportunities to immerse ourselves in environments even though we do not occupy that physical space.
As teachers, we can offer students opportunities (fieldwork, community engagement, cultural observation, etc.) to get out of the traditional classroom and explore “concrete experiences” and have them transform them for others through “reflective observation.” The Experiential Review assignment asks students to immerse themselves in real-life experiences and recreate them (in multilayered ways) for their audiences.
Background Readings and Resources
Assignment: The Experiential Review
- Have students choose a place that they want to visit to immerse themselves. They must choose a place where they can physically go rather than reflect on a place they have visited in the past. Sometimes I encourage them to go to a place they have never been before and other times a place with which they are familiar. Students choose restaurants, museums, parks, and community events. I usually have them brainstorm ideas with classmates to come up with interesting and creative sites for observation.
- Discuss ideas surrounding the “kaleidoscopic” nature of experience -- where things happen simultaneously and through many layers and perspectives (Britton). Bring in ideas about place and space and talk about the ways “experience overlays landscape” (Harmon). I introduce them to the participant/spectator relationship and the difference between concrete and reflective experiences. We identify different lenses for viewing experiences such as geographical, sociological, and psychological. Basically, we complicate the term, experience, and come with examples and strategies for observing their place.
- Have students visit their site and immerse themselves in the layers of experiences. I want them to be aware of the environment, atmosphere, context and specific details -- to look at small details and the big picture (micro to macro). I encourage them to talk to people, take pictures, shoot video, and take written field notes along the way.
- Finally, students write up the experience as interactive content (blog, website, linked document, etc.) with the goal of trying to recreate the experience and immerse their audience. Instruct them to describe their experience, along with their perspective (review), and to include background along with their experience. Encourage them to describe the atmosphere and provide evidence and examples for their ideas and perspectives.
Length: 800-1000 words (interactive blog post)
Images: At least 3 captioned, original images
Links: At least 3 purposeful embedded links
Multimodal components: At least one beyond original images (maps, article, video, etc.)
- Specific Details
- Evidence and Examples
- Exploratory pathways (embedded links)
- Supplemental Content Sections
- Engaging Voice
- Captioned Images
- Multimodal Components
- Layers of Experience
I use many variations of the Experiential Review assignment. Sometimes I send students out individually to discover their own places and other times I arrange field experiences for the whole class. Sometimes I send them all to one particular kind of place (restaurant reviews) and other times I engage them in “sense of place assignments” where they have to explore the multiple layers within a geographic boundary. I have found that students almost always enjoy these assignments because they push them to interact and try on new lenses for critical observation that gives them practice in interactive digital writing. They also enjoy the genre of the review that pushes them beyond a neutral reportage towards observations that include their own perspectives. I also have students share their assignments publicly with the class in which they share their places and encourage others to try them out for themselves.
Britton, James N. Language and Learning: The Importance of Speech in Children’s Development. Heinemann, 1993.
Harmon, Katharine. You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.
Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Pearson FT Press, 2015.