Submitted by: The General Education Committee of the Faculty Senate

March 6, 2007



What is the Discovery-Based and Experiential Learning (DLE) requirement?

At its May 3, 2004 meeting, the Faculty Senate approved a resolution that “the University require all undergraduate students entering in September 2005 or later to take at least three credits of Discovery-Based or Experiential Learning (e.g., an internship, a service learning course, an independent study, participation in the Undergraduate Research Program or a Study Abroad program) in fulfillment of their degrees.” Because there is a credit requirement, discovery and/or experiential learning must have a course number assignation. The credit requirement may be satisfied in a single course or in a series of courses, as long as a total of three (3) credits are earned.


Why did the Faculty approve this resolution? How does it support student learning and our educational mission?

Drawing upon decades of theory and research about how and why we learn, the literature supports the concept that we learn and retain knowledge more effectively when we learn by doing. When students apply theory to practice, when they use information to solve actual problems, when they are mentored to realize that they are not only receivers of knowledge but also discoverers of knowledge, when they realize and develop their own competencies when faced with unfamiliar situations, they have a deeper realization of the value of what we are teaching, they strengthen their intellectual abilities, and they have the potential to gain greater self-confidence as future professionals. The most effective DLEs challenge students to build on their current level of knowledge, experience and skill sets.


What is Discovery and Experiential Learning ?

While there are many definitions in the literature, in their most basic forms both discovery and experiential learning is learning that takes place when students use their knowledge and skills acquired through traditional classroom experiences to discover, for themselves, effective actions, alternatives and solutions to situations and/or problems that occur in “real-life” contexts; that is, contexts that are unpredictable, where problems and situations are complex and lack clear definitions. These contexts are primarily outside of the classroom, but may occur within a classroom experience, as long as the student learning goals of the DLE are achieved.


Since you mentioned student learning goals, do all DLEs have a common set of required learning goals?

It is important to note that the value of the DLE arises from intentional learning, not solely from engaging in the experience. Because there are a myriad of ways that students can meet the DLE requirement, there must be a common expectation of what learning should occur as a result of the experience. Both faculty and students must be aware of this expectation. To that end, all DLEs must incorporate the following two student learning goals:


1.      Students will apply critical thinking skills and academic knowledge/concepts to develop effective responses to, and make informed decisions about, problems or situations encountered in the course of the learning experience.


2.      Students will engage in reflection, which incorporates self-assessment and analysis of the learning that has occurred as a result of their participation in the DLE. At a minimum, students will be expected to examine and demonstrate what they have learned as a result of the DLE, how they have learned it, the impact of their learning on their personal and professional growth, and how to apply that learning in other situations or contexts.


Will faculty assess how well students have met the DLE learning goals?

Yes. The inclusion of these learning goals means that faculty have the responsibility to assess—to measure and evaluate--how well they have been achieved by students. In most cases, faculty will require work products that allow students to demonstrate their mastery of the learning goals. Two types of work products that can be easily designed to help students achieve these goals are reflective journals and learning portfolios. The Office of Educational Assessment and the Center for Teaching Effectiveness can assist faculty in developing simple but effective assignments and evaluative rubrics that facilitate assessing the students’ abilities to meet the expectations of the faculty as expressed in the learning goals.


In addition to the two student learning goals noted above, can faculty require additional learning goals for the DLEs?

It is expected that, as is usually done for all academic courses at UD, each DLE will have its own explicitly stated learning goals for participating students. The specific learning goals associated with a DLE should be developed by the instructor and/or with the faculty of a unit. The following are some examples of potential student learning goals, many of which incorporate general education goals:


At the end of this course/credit experience, students will have demonstrated their ability to:


·        Communicate ideas and the results of their work and resultant learning with clarity, concision, and precision.


·        Design and implement a research or field project that addresses a problem with no known or widely-accepted answers.


·        Identify, design and implement at least one strategy for testing a hypothesis that is congruent with accepted practices in the discipline.


·        Draw original supportable conclusions from data collected to test a hypothesis.


·        Use creative and critical thinking skills and knowledge of (insert language from discipline) to effectively contribute to a problem-solving team.


·        Choose and apply appropriate technology/instrumentation/laboratory/computer skills/technology to devise solutions to problems or complex situations encountered in the course of this experience.



Besides student learning goals and assessment, what are other requirements of the DLE?

Faculty have a responsibility to insure that students are prepared to engage successfully in discovery learning; that is, that the student has been exposed to prior knowledge and experiences that they will need to successfully map their own learning. Similarly, while students are primarily the ones responsible for defining the problem and engaging in problem-solving strategies, this cannot be effectively accomplished without strong mentoring support from faculty. Given this, the following are required elements of the DLE[1]:


1.      The DLE must be supervised, with on-going faculty involvement and support. While this support may take many forms, it always includes:

·        a written set of shared expectations about the quantity and quality of the experience and required products

·        sufficient periodic meetings with the student(s) to assess progress, advances, and roadblocks

·        feedback on the quality of the student(s) progress and intermediate products/assignments


2.      In addition to the requirement for reflective learning, students will be expected to produce at least one final product, as a result of the DLE. Examples of products include:

·        Research papers

·        Theses

·        Reports

·        Essays

·        Exhibits

·        Portfolios

·        Performances

·        Oral presentations

·        Media presentations


3.      The expectations for student learning must be clearly established in the syllabi or otherwise communicated to the student in writing. The student’s work must be evaluated and a grade assigned. The grade should be based upon what the student has learned and how well the student has met the learning goals, not only how many hours were spent in the DLE.


4.      The DLE, particularly if it is integrated into a regular course, must be of sufficient depth and complexity to be worth the assigned number of academic credits.


When and how can students take a DLE at UD?

Students may register for a DLE in any semester, although they should have some assurance that they have the requisite academic knowledge and experience that they will need to successfully map their own learning. The following examples suggest contexts in which discovery and experiential learning may occur:


·        Senior thesis

·        Independent study

·        Research experiences

·        Field work

·        Practicum

·        Internship

·        Clinical experiences

·        Student teaching

·        Mentoring

·        Tutoring

·        Other courses that meet the DLE learning goals and requirements


It is important to note that simply being enrolled in any of the above does not, in and of itself, constitute a DLE if it does not meet the aforementioned requirements and characteristics. For example, an internship might also be a DLE if it meets the definition and requirements of a DLE as explained in the preceding sections. However, not all internships will meet those requirements and so it cannot be categorically stated that internships fulfill the DLE requirement. See below for more information regarding approval of individualized DLEs.


Are there any pre-approved ways in which the DLE requirement is met?

The Undergraduate Studies Committee of the University Faculty Senate is satisfied that study abroad and service learning courses meet the learning outcomes and other requirements outlined for a DLE. Therefore, all students who successfully complete a University of Delaware study abroad or service learning course of at least three (3) credits satisfy their DLE requirement.


Who determines if a course is a DLE?

It’s important to remember that this learning experience was created by us-- the faculty-- because we believe it will enrich our students’ educational career. As a faculty initiative, we believe that the faculty is most able and prepared to design and offer a DLE that is challenging, creative, and true to the spirit of the Faculty Senate resolution. To that end, we encourage and support faculty ownership of the DLE. To facilitate faculty ownership, the DLE requirement will be implemented primarily at the department level. Faculty, with departmental approval, may submit proposals for courses to carry the DLE designation to the University Faculty Senate Undergraduate Studies Committee (note that UD study abroad courses and service-learning courses are exempt from this process, as they automatically receive the DLE designation upon approval by the CFIS or the Service Learning offices). The proposal may request a permanent designation, if the course is to meet the requirements of the DLE every time it is taught. In other cases, faculty may propose a course for the DLE designation on a semester or academic year basis. A timetable for submissions to and responses by the Senate Committee will be established that will facilitate the department’s ability to schedule courses that meet the DLE requirement in a timely manner. Approved DLE courses will be forwarded to the Office of the Registrar, which will publish a list of DLE offerings each semester in preparation for student course registration.


How do individualized DLE experiences get approved?

Students who intend to meet the DLE requirement through individualized experiences such as independent study, research, and field work would need to file a request to be approved by their advisor and their Department Chair (or designee). These requests would follow a similar format to the current independent study process. Note that those programs that have an established requirement for students (examples include internships, clinical experiences, student teaching) could request one-time approval through the University Faculty Senate Undergraduate Studies Committee.


Would a Discovery Learning Experience require additional courses?

The majority of academic departments and programs, if not all, will be able to satisfy the DLE without the creation of new courses and without increasing the number of credits required for graduation. Note that many other types of university-wide opportunities available to students (e.g. study abroad, summer research, service learning) can meet the requirements of the DLE if students take them for credit. Similarly, units might already have courses in place that also qualify as a DLE. However, it is important to emphasize that some of these courses might require some curricular and pedagogical modifications in order to ensure that they meet the DLE requirements.


Will every faculty member have to offer a DLE?

No. However, academic units should insure that they offer sufficient opportunities within their curriculums for students to meet the DLE requirement.


Will academic units report their assessment of student learning in their DLE offerings?

Yes. Discovery and experiential learning are key hallmarks of the UD General Education Initiative and, as such, we have an institutional responsibility to assess how well students are meeting DLE learning goals. On an annual basis, academic units will submit a short form to the Office of Educational Assessment indicating how well students are meeting the learning goals established for the DLE. The Faculty Senate General Education Committee also has a responsibility and charge to evaluate the overall effectiveness of General Education initiatives, and information will be shared as we seek ways to continually improve the quality of our students’ experiences at the University of Delaware.



[1] University policies in the Faculty Handbook set forth expectations that apply to some DLEs. For example, see for policies governing field experiences and service learning.