This academic year, Ball State will see the largest number of immersive learning participants and projects so far, as a result of the university’s initiative.
In the current Strategic Plan, which began in 2012, immersive learning became one of the school’s four main goals. The state also recognized Ball State’s commitment and awarded the university a $6.6 million entrepreneurial initiative, part of which is allocated to immersive learning.
The efforts have helped expand immersive learning experiences through different venues on campus — Building Better Communities Fellows, the Virginia Ball Center and individual departments.
This semester is the BBC Fellow’s biggest semester to date — with around 20 projects, compared to 15 last semester. The increase in projects will allow about 100 more students participate in immersive learning in the fall.
Projects with BBC Fellows partner with a community member or organization with a class to solve a problem.
Matt Bailey, BBC Fellows project manager, said the increase in projects is due to word getting out and larger interest in immersive learning both from the community and Ball State.
“We’ve seen an increase in external people coming to us, and we are getting more people approaching us,” Bailey said. “My board is fairly active with inquiries. We are getting more faculty members, chairs and deans buying into this and partnering with us.”
The program is in the final semester of the grant that started its success.
Ten years ago, BBC Fellows was started by a $750,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, which was matched by the university for funds of $1.5 million. This grant was given again five years ago, and it ends in December.
Bailey said the university does not plan to let BBC Fellows go unfunded and end, but additional funding has not yet been secured.
The individual projects are not funded through BBC Fellows; they rely on the community member or apply for the Provost Immersive Learning Grants.
VIRGINIA BALL CENTER
The Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry remains a central part of immersive learning. The Virginia Ball Center was the birthplace of “creative inquiry” projects, an idea that was transformed into the idea “immersive learning.”
Joe Trimmer, director of the center, said it has been wonderful to see the method of learning at the Virginia Ball Center become a large part of the university’s direction.
“[The students are] getting more than a grade, that’s for sure,” Trimmer said. “Immersive learning is an opportunity to apply the skills they learned in the classroom. It’s a practical way to learn, and students become authors of and authorities on their own education.”
In contrast to BBC Fellows’ 20 projects, the Virginia Ball Center hosts only two intensive immersive learning projects each semester. Roughly 15 students participate in each offering, so the center reaches 60 students in a year.
Projects through this center are funded mainly through the Edmund and Virginia Ball Foundation. Trimmer said the center applies for a $456,000 grant every two years, along with additional funds from Ball State.
DEPARTMENTS AND UNIVERSITY FUNDING
Individual departments also have seen an increase in available immersive learning opportunities, which could be contributed to the current Strategic Plan.
In the plan, which began in 2012, one goal is for each undergraduate department to offer at least one immersive learning opportunity each year.
Last year, the university selected eight professors from each academic college to create the Presidential Immersive Learning Fellows. The fellows function as a coach and supporter of immersive learning in their respective colleges.
Jacquelyn Buckrop, an assistant to the provost, attributes the increase of Provost Immersive Learning Grants applications to the panel. Submitted proposals nearly doubled, with a total of 32 in February. The provost funded 16 projects to run from Summer 2013 to Spring 2014.
The grant is included in the yearly budget of about $400,000 to $500,000 the university allocates to immersive learning from its general fund.