ELN Project Portal and Global NGO Projects
Buffalo, University at
Interest in Experiential Learning (EL) is growing and changing. Across every college and university, students are searching for internships, research, and global experiences to build skills and enhance resumes. No longer content with passive coursework, students want to get close to ideas, cultures, and challenges, making real contributions through projects and engagement. Employers and potential partners share their enthusiasm, and are eager to tap into students’ talents and competencies. Yet despite the promise of EL, current EL models are unable to adapt to changing needs and expectations, and cannot embrace opportunities in their most diverse forms, or help students connect experiences with professional and academic goals. As we contemplate the future of EL within the changing landscape of higher education, it is clear that simply tweaking our current models will not get us where we need to go- namely, toward greater access, customization and impact. Instead, we need to embrace new approaches that leverage technology, expertise and relationships to create models that are inherently more powerful and scalable.
Toward this goal, the UB Experiential Learning Network (ELN) launched its Project Portal in 2019. We designed the Portal to provide UB students of all backgrounds and majors with meaningful engagement opportunities. With SUNY PIF funding, we designed 3 interconnected components: a dynamic space for creating and sharing project opportunities; a flexible engagement framework (PEARL); and digital badges to signify student achievement and showcase project outputs. While the PEARL engagement framework includes traditional EL components of Preparation, Engagement, and Reflection, it introduces “Adding value” and “Leveraging” as critical steps, and connects facilitation with digital badges, allowing for robust research and assessment. Through comparing participants with matched samples, we can assess growth through quantitative and qualitative data and explore differences in success and retention. And because students post badges within LinkedIn profiles, we can follow projects into the world of work and explore differences in professional success and mobility. The model also offers curricular versatility as the co-curricular badges, projects and PEARL framework can be integrated seamlessly into courses and programs of study, supporting exciting collaboration with academic faculty, departments and programs.
While the Project Portal can accommodate all types of opportunities including mentored research, innovation, civic engagement, and creative work, it was intentionally designed to support global collaboration. Since 2009, I have been engaging with NGOs in Mara Tanzania and leading an annual study abroad trip with my colleague from SUNY Empire, Dr. Dan Nyaronga. Although we had been fostering engagement between trips, I needed a vehicle for building on individual student efforts, and engaging students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel to Tanzania. While our Tanzanian partner was featured in our initial launch, the Pandemic and associated move to online instruction in 2020 created a market for virtual engagement opportunities. We have since expanded our portfolio of Global NGOs which now includes over 20 organizations from Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa, In addition to global NGOs, we also feature projects that engage students in the creation of Wikipedia entries and OER content focused on the UN SDGs and our NGO partners, under the mentorship of UB librarian, Cindi Tysik. We also have a digital magazine(GWEM) project that was started by a former UB student and was inspired by her project in SUNY Global Commons, sharing stories about Global Women’s Empowerment, and features the voices and stories of many of our global partners and participating students.
Our global projects begin within an exploration of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with students contextualizing the work of the selected NGO. Projects are customized from student skills or interests, and NGO priorities and requests. Students meet with NGO leaders through facilitated Zoom calls and work to understand the needs and priorities toward clarifying a specific project with a clear deliverable. While many students work through our global projects directly, we collaborate with many faculty to integrate badges and NGO engagement within courses. Current examples include a sustainability seminar with over 400 students in multiple sections, in which students focus SDG-related assignments on our Tanzanian partner, and a graduate Architecture course in which students utilize a brick press and materials similar to those being used by our Tanzanian partner, experimenting with different soil and clay ratios to achieve the most durable block composition and share information with our partners. In addition to customizing projects for students, we can also adapt our model to meet the specific ideas and needs of individual faculty or programs.
Since launching our Portal in 2019, we have engaged over 1,000 students and are currently supporting more than 600 active projects. Initial research suggested that although all projects are associated with growth in NACE competencies and other metrics, our global projects are especially transformative. And while interest continues to grow, we currently have more global NGO partners than we can match with students. While I continue to share the Project Portal and badge model with other campuses in the SUNY system, I am particularly interested in highlighting our global projects and the benefits of engaging with global NGOs around sustainability and community development. These projects resonate with student interests, and also result in important contributions to NGO partners upon which they can build capacity and further growth. As the pandemic continues to disrupt study abroad, internships and other high-impact experiences, we must find new ways to support students and the world through leveraging technology and our own resources and expertise. Thank you for considering the Project Portal and our global NGO projects as best practices to be highlighted and shared.
See attached assessment powerpoint. We collect quantitative and qualitative data throughout the PEARL assignments. We are able to compare participants with matched sameples and examine differences in success and retention. We have found growth in all NACE competencies across all projects and especially transformative impacts related to global projects. Further research and assessment are forthcoming.