Working on a college campus gives one a unique perspective into the world of academia, personal growth, and life beyond the classroom, where my primary role as a student affairs professional begins. I work in leadership and volunteerism, empowering students to become effective leaders and active community members. Our office has the privilege of facilitating leadership discussions and team building activities, connecting students with community needs, coaching them through challenging situations, helping them to discover interests and establish goals, and watching them succeed, sometimes fail, and always grow.
We also have a great deal of fun and develop lifelong relationships through these interactions. Although I am also an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma, my favorite way of teaching is through experiential learning, focusing on learning by doing. You probably have experienced this type of learning situation, but may not have known it as being an intentional learning method.
Learning by Doing
We learned to walk by pulling up, letting go, falling, getting up, and doing this repeatedly until eventually taking that first step. A similar scenario played out when learning to ride a bicycle, and with so many other skills developed in our childhood. All through our lives we have taken this natural approach to learning—by engaging, gaining new knowledge, reflecting, and growing.
Importance of Play
Plato once wrote, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Creating an element of play through facilitating team building activities, shared experiences, casual recreation, and meaningful discussion allows communication and leadership styles to surface, as well as relevant life lessons to be identified. “Aha!” moments are realized through reflection of the dynamics that unfolded—making a lasting impact in their learning process.
Trying It On
Internships and practicum experiences can also be life-changing for college students. It’s these real-life, short-term experiences that provide a good look into a chosen career path, possible future employment, and meaningful references. Students also gain clarity and new perspectives through these insightful and valuable experiences.
Me. We. Thee.
Another approach to active learning found on most campuses today is through community service. Service learning provides volunteer opportunities along with instruction regarding the specific community need. Formal reflection and discussion on the activity enrich the experience, teach civic responsibility, and in turn, impact the community. Through individual knowledge and action as a team, the community is changed—all while impacting the individuals as well as the team collectively.
Kappa Alpha Theta provides many opportunities for varied experiential learning via learning by doing, playing together, practicing, and learning through service. Members serve as chapter officers and committee members—experiencing leadership roles and participating as part of a team—engaging, gaining new knowledge, reflecting, and growing. Chapter members play together through participation in intramurals, retreats, shared experiences, and simple camaraderie—discovering more about each other and themselves. Members learn about community needs (including organizations such as CASA) and have opportunities to volunteer and contribute to making a difference in the world around them. Spending time reflecting on these experiences provides a greater awareness of social needs, opportunities for involvement, and personal growth gained.
While many of our early life lessons are gleaned through college experiences, learning continues throughout our lives. Kappa Alpha Theta contributes to our life-long learning through alumni activities, volunteerism opportunities, and friendships through the years, bringing learning to life—for a lifetime.
Becky Reed Barker, Ph.D., Beta Zeta/Oklahoma State, serves on the Foundation Scholarship Committee and is a former Educational Leadership Consultant. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma, with her husband and two sons and serves as director of the Center for Leadership and Volunteerism at the University of Oklahoma.