Faculty Spotlight: Stephanie Wilsey

March 27, 2013

Adult Development Course Rewards Students with Valuable Life Lessons

Stephanie Wilsey, an assistant professor in Carlow University’s Department of Psychology and Counseling, brought a fresh take to teach the effects of aging to her Adult Development class.

After years of the traditional approach to the topic, Wilsey decided to make her Adult Development incorporate experiential teaching, and thus, satisfy Carlow undergraduates’ service-learning requirement.

This requirement can often be one of the most difficult for Carlow students, but its rewards outweigh the extra time that is needed to complete a service-learning course.

“Most instructors and students, I believe, would agree that service-learning is more demanding,” Wilsey said.  “It can potentially, however, be extremely rewarding, and experiential learning methods such as service-learning can teach lessons that really can't be taught well any other way.”

Along with three students chosen because of their leadership during the project, Wilsey wrote a soon-to-be-published journal article on the topic.

“Our research is being published in volume 41 of the Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, a peer-reviewed journal, addressing how service-learning may be a particularly powerful tool in combating prejudice,” Wilsey said.

Wilsey’s course centered on experiential teaching, which is having students interact with the subjects they are learning about.

In her first semester teaching this course in this manner, Wilsey paired her 12 students up with the Women of West Oakland to plan a tea-party luncheon and the Sisters of Mercy to plan a holiday-themed party.

“Despite the proximity, as well as the Women of West Oakland’s status as a community partner to the university, this was the first interaction the female elders had with students from the university,” Wilsey wrote in her journal article.

Since students couldn’t experience what the elderly group went through first hand, talking with them about their experiences was the next-best approach.

“They talked about their past, what they accomplished,” said an interviewed student in the journal article.  “A lot of the stuff we talked about it in class, they did.”

It wasn’t just the interviews that showed Wilsey’s experiential teaching as a success.  The surveys also showed that students felt the project was valuable to the course, increased interest in the course, increased understanding of the course, and helped students learn more than in a typical course.

“Based on study results, we learned that students felt that the service was very beneficial to their learning,” Wilsey said.  “Being around vibrant and interesting older adults really dispelled myths and misconceptions that they had held about the elderly that their textbook did little to address.”

With all of the success the course has, Wilsey now needs to find more community partners.  Lucky for her, the class’s broad range allows her to look for them in a variety of age groups.

One of the few downsides to this new approach to teaching adult development is that the course must remain small in order to maintain an ideal learning environment.

“Having the entire class working collaboratively on one project would have been difficult with a much larger group,” Wilsey said.  “On the other hand, having a smaller group meant that students had to do their parts to pull off the project.  Social loafing by more than a few would have been disastrous.”