Experiential Learning & Teaching in Higher Education


Background: The aim of Jesuit education is total growth leading to action (Jesuit Institute, 2014a), plus higher Jesuit education seeks to transform students through examining the world around them. The promotion of experiential learning is noted in Ignatian Pedagogy (2014a) by urging the whole person to enter the learning experience. Nursing education, at a Jesuit University, involves educating the whole person within a service-oriented profession. Thus, experiential learning in a nursing course at a Jesuit University is an active component of Ignatian pedagogy, promoting Jesuit values and Catholic identity. This has been challenging since the COVID-19 pandemic forced universities to move classes to virtual platforms to replace face-to-face (FTF) teaching (Gamage et al., 2020). However, there is still a need to offer services to vulnerable individuals and is increasingly essential since the demand for assistance has expanded, (Croghan, 2020; Nonprofit Business Advisor, 2018), during the pandemic.

Problem Statement: When COVID-19 pandemic required the suspension of FTF teaching and implemented mandatory social distancing measures, FTF service learning with COVID safeguards in place was not the only option for nursing students, at a Jesuit University. Nursing faculty strived to offer, direct, indirect or virtual experiential learning opportunities in the community. Although virtual experiential learning for nursing students is feasible, evidence of its effectiveness is scarce. In light of the gap, the researchers examined the effectiveness of FTF and virtual experiential learning experiences by comparing compassion and diversity outcomes.

Theoretical Framework: Using the Social Change Model as the framework for the study, it strongly aligns with the Jesuit University’s mission. Likewise, it seeks to develop nursing student’s self-knowledge and leadership competence, both of which are required for the service-oriented nursing profession.

Methodology: The study utilized a pre-post survey design in the first nursing class for sophomore students, along with reflective writing requirements.

Results: In total, 79 students participated in the research. Fifteen individuals completed service virtually, 29 completed food-based service learning, and 27 completed nonfood-related service-learning. The remanding participants completed miscellaneous service-learning experiences.

For the objective outcome related to compassion through service, the pre-survey M=4.35 and post-survey M=4.57, constituting a significant change of 0.22. For engagement with diverse community’ objective outcome, the pre-survey M=4.28 and post-survey M=4.43 indicated a positive change of 0.15.

Implications to Practice: The research advances the literature by comparing the experiential service learning opportunities in the community. The results suggest that virtual experiential learning could be included in higher nursing education, especially for developing nurturing compassion and enhancing an understanding of diversity. Compassion develops early within the social change model and is represented in the first nursing course. Likewise, diversity competence usually occurs later in life per the social change model and is represented in the same course towards the end of the semester at the Jesuit University. The findings suggest that virtual service-learning opportunities may be an alternative mode of FTF service-learning that can be used in the future, even after the pandemic, by allowing students to serve the community as long as they can access the internet.

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