Immersive learning classes provide students with real-world experience

<p>CS4MS+ students Gwyn Hultquist and Brian Walker engage in conversation at a computer science conference in Indianapolis Sept. 16, 2019. CS4MS+ aims to provide students with real-world teaching experience. <strong>Robbie Mehling, Photo Provided</strong></p>

CS4MS+ students Gwyn Hultquist and Brian Walker engage in conversation at a computer science conference in Indianapolis Sept. 16, 2019. CS4MS+ aims to provide students with real-world teaching experience. Robbie Mehling, Photo Provided

Editor's note: A previous version of this article said Suzanne Plesha is the immersive learning project director, it has been corrected to say she is the director of immersive learning. This article has also been corrected to clarify that immersive learning does not provide internships.

Immersive learning comes in many forms — community partnerships, real-world problem-solving and even learning how to bind books.

Suzanne Plesha, director of immersive learning, said anywhere from 200 to 300 projects are completed by immersive learning classes each year. The classes provide students and faculty with a better understanding of the world around them through community involvement opportunities.

Plesha said the projects are known as “high-impact experiences” — where students are actively engaged in learning and problem solving. Most courses involve volunteering in local neighborhoods, planning community events or assisting professors with research.

The projects take the entire semester, Plesha said, where “students interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters on an ongoing basis in or out of the classroom.”

Immersive learning classrooms are located both on and off campus. One is located in the Whitinger Business Building, where students can engage in brokerage activities and trade stocks. There is an off-campus classroom in downtown Muncie, known as Books Arts Collaborative, where students learn how to bind books and produce handmade books with community partners. 

Next semester, Rai Peterson, associate professor of English, said, the project will focus on archiving, printing and publishing a collection of photos and catalogs from Hulman & Company, a general store founded in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1850 that was sold in 2018. The final product will be distributed to museums and historical societies interested in displaying it.

“Its purpose is to preserve apprentice-taught skills and share those with the public. That means we make hand-sewn journals and books, and we make print ephemera,” Peterson said. “We’ve even done a birthday party for a 13-year-old girl who was really interested in bookbinding.”

Peterson was inspired to begin the course because of her own college experience. 

“I wanted to be an art major myself in college, and my parents couldn’t afford for me to have the materials,” Peterson said. “So, I wanted to make a project where it didn’t matter how much money you had — it just mattered how much enthusiasm you could bring to the project.” 

There were nine spring semester immersive learning courses promoted on Oct. 21, 2020 during a virtual "pitch night" for immersive learning, but Plesha said Ball State offers hundreds of immersive learning opportunities, some of which are continuing projects. The Philosophy Outreach Program brings philosophy instruction to Indiana middle and high schools, currently through publishing virtual presentations and lesson plans for teachers. 

“Through our outreach, we visit a lot of different schools throughout the state,” said Sarah Vitale, assistant professor of philosophy.

The Philosophy Outreach Program hosts an annual philosophy conference in the Ball State Student Center every spring, where children spend the day talking to college students or alumni facilitators about philosophy. 

Student Sarah Bailey teaches North Side middle school students about computer science October 4th, 2019. Students in CS4MS+ created lesson plans for teachers to use in class as part of the immersive learning project. Robbie Mehling, Photo Provided

Another immersive learning class focusing on educating students is CS4MS+, a computer science project that teaches computer science to underrepresented minority K-12 students.

Hunter Wallace, senior computer science major and first-time member of CS4MS+, said he is still enjoying his experience even though the program is currently virtual.

“I think it’s really good for the students to see college students engaging in this e-learning online,” Wallace said. “It helps us all work on being better online presenters.”

Other immersive learning classes range from managing a microbiology journal to writing a Zoom play.

English professor Kathryn Ludwig is leading a class centered on representations of the Midwest in pop culture and interviewing those living in the Midwest to learn more about their daily lives. The class is partnered with the Minnetrista Cultural Center, where students will display a museum exhibit at the end of their semester to present their work.

“The exhibit will include our findings about representations of the Midwest and student multimodal projects that strive to extend the conversation about Midwestern identity,” Ludwig said. “Visitors to the exhibit will be invited to contribute their own stories.”

New immersive learning courses are being added each semester, and Plesha said they help fulfill Ball State’s community engagement requirement. 

"Immersive learning is the collaboration between student teams and community partners," Plesha said. "The faculty members are the ones who help to guide the students through the process. When they finish they have a product that they hope will have a lasting impact on the community."

Contact Mackenzie Rupp with comments at msrupp@bsu.edu or on Twitter at @kenzieer18.

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