The upper-division integrative experience (IE) provides a structured context for students to reflect on their own learning and explore the connections between the broad exposure provided by General Education and the more focused exposure of their major.
Purpose Statement: Upper Division Integrative Experience
Integrative learning comes in many varieties: connecting skills and knowledge from multiple sources and experiences; applying theory to practice in various settings; utilizing diverse and even contradictory points of view; and, understanding issues and positions contextually.
(Statement on Integrative Learning, Association for American Colleges and Universities & the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, March 2004)
The Undergraduate experience can be a fragmented one. Students fulfill a set of General Education requirements, fulfill another set of requirements for the major, and take various electives. They also participate in a range of extracurricular activities. Too often they see these components of their undergraduate education as unconnected and disjointed rather than experiencing them as an integrated whole that helps prepare them for a lifetime of learning.
The skill of integrative thinking, however, takes practice and focused attention. We know that current research into the process of learning highlights the challenge that novice learners face in making connections among seemingly disparate sets of information and experiences. Students require structured learning experiences to become integrative thinkers. They need multiple opportunities to draw on their previous learning, apply previous and new knowledge and skills to increasingly complex problems and discipline-based settings, and reflect upon how the various components of their education can help shape their future engagement in professional, civic, interpersonal, and intellectual activities.
The Integrative Experience (IE) requirement at UMass Amherst addresses the challenges associated with educational fragmentation. Positioned in the upper-division, the IE provides students with a structured opportunity to look back on their early college learning experiences, reflect upon and make connections between those earlier experiences and the more advanced work in their major, and use their integrated learning to prepare for the demands of the world beyond the University.
The IE addresses the goals by fulfilling each of the following three criteria:
- Providing a structured, credited context for students to reflect on and to integrate their learning and experience from the broad exposure in their General Education courses and the focus in their major.
- Providing students with the opportunity to practice General Education learning objectives such as oral communication, collaboration, critical thinking and interdisciplinary perspective-taking, at a more advanced level.
- Offering students a shared learning experience for applying their prior learning to new situations, challenging questions, and real-world problems.