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Experiential Courses

Excerpted from LSA Curriculum Committee Minutes 11/16/99

In response to feedback from the LSA Visiting Committee and the Advising Committee citing the value of these types of learning experiences outside of the classroom, the Curriculum Committee discussed appropriate guidelines for departments wanting to create internships or courses designated as "experiential." UROP, which provides one example of the value of experiential learning, plans to extend its efforts to juniors and seniors, at least in the sciences where more advanced research would be more useful. The Community Service Program also offers many opportunities for learning outside of the classroom. UM currently has no formal co-op programs that bring together work opportunities and interested students. Such programs are typically dependent on a large industrial or commercial base in close proximity.

LSA internship opportunities lag behind various professional schools, e.g., Engineering and Education. Far more internships existed ten years ago, but departments lacked the resources to administer them. In addition to the academic benefits to be gained from experiential courses, some practical reasons point to the need for more internships: 1) in order to participate in governmental internship programs, students must earn academic credit for those experiences; 2) internships provide on-the-job experience, a credential that can help students in the job market; and 3) students cannot be covered under their parent's insurance policy during internships unless they are earning academic credit.

Key elements of the discussion concerned grading practices, credit limits, and methods by which students report on these experiences to faculty advisors, and possible models of internships.

  1. The issue of grading practices has been addressed by the 1987-88 Curriculum Committee, which adopted the policy that all internships be mandatory Credit/No Credit. (It would be helpful to review existing experiential courses still listed as graded.)
  2. The current policy concerning credit limits is stated in the LSA Bulletin: a maximum of 15 credits of experiential courses may be counted toward a degree; a maximum of 8 credits may be earned from one project; and only one such experiential project may be elected each term. The committee considers these maximum numbers to be generous; it also recommends that a maximum of 4 credits count toward satisfying a concentration, a policy now used by Political Science.
  3. In order to assure adequate academic content, internships need a viable reporting structure linking faculty, students, and employers. For example, a faculty advisor could require a short report written by the student as well as the employer's written comments on that student's performance. Without this element of accountability, faculty would have little or no control over the content of specific internships. It would be helpful to have a prospective employer sign an internship proposal before it is submitted. Three hours per week per credit is the expected norm. 

Possible Internship Models

The committee recommends that internships in each department be limited to concentrators, although LSA would have to find some avenue to administer opportunities or proposals that do not fall within departmental parameters. In spite of inadequate resources, Student Advising currently handles internships for students who are part of the extremely large ICP in Organizational Psychology. UC 300, College Practicum, may provide one avenue for a small number of non-departmental internships.

RC internships provide one possible model for internships. At the end of the internship, the student is required to submit an evaluative journal, write a paper if the experience yielded research data, and make a presentation to the college. The number of credits earned is dependent on the academic content of all of these. ECON 299 is another model.

LSA distinguishes between courses that earn regular academic credit and experiential courses that count as experiential credit. This involves academic work that may take place in a setting other than a university classroom with 3 hours per week of work per credit is the expected norm. Most experiential courses are offered through programs administered by departments and involve putting into practice educational concepts directly related to an academic discipline. For example, SOC 389, Practicum in Sociology, is an experiential course offered through Sociology.

Almost all experiential courses are offered mandatory credit/no credit, which means that they are not graded on the basis of A-E. In order to assure adequate academic content, experiential courses must have a viable reporting structure linking faculty and students. For example, a faculty advisor could require students to write a short report about what they learned through the experience and how it relates to their academic work.

College policies further stipulate the following: a maximum of 15 credits of experiential courses may be counted toward a degree; a maximum 8 credits may be earned from one project; and only one experiential project may be elected each term. In addition, a combined total 30 credits of experiential and independent study courses may be counted in the 120 credits required for a degree, and experiential and independent study courses are excluded from area distribution plans.