WPU transitions to four-credit Immersive Learning model

August 14, 2023
Immersive learning

As William Peace University (WPU) welcomes students for a new school year, campus leadership, professors, and staff are enthusiastic about transitioning to a four-credit model integrating immersive learning throughout all courses. 

The new curriculum structure enables immersive learning to become a core part of each class, said Dr. Lynda Szymanski, Vice President for Academic Affairs. Every course, major and minor, has been revised to enable faculty to provide students with a more in-depth education. 

WPU’s Director of Faculty Development and Immersive Learning, Dr. Michelle Corvette notes that this change provides students with multiple opportunities to experience and reflect as they learn through actual involvement. “By implementing an immersive learning program in the whole curriculum, WPU demonstrates a commitment to recognizing the needs of upcoming generations and how to best prepare them for success in their lives,” she adds. 

Classes can offer experiences from hosting simulated stock markets to exploring behind the scenes at Broadway shows to testing creeks for contaminated fish. 

“Immersive learning looks different in all of our courses,” said Dr. Wade Newhouse, Program Director of Theatre and Professor of English. The new structure allows professors to create more engaging classes, he added. Students won’t just memorize and test their knowledge; they will think critically and apply what they learn.  

While faculty haven’t always called it immersive learning, student-centered classes have always been a priority at WPU, explained Newhouse. 

Alumna Sarah Armstrong Barge ‘79 loved the food and nutrition course she took at her alma mater, what was then known as Peace College, now William Peace University.

The course included both instructional lessons and hands-on lab experiences. Her professor would teach students about the chemistry behind food and then take Barge and her classmates to the lab to create these foods themselves. 

Barge experienced the science she had studied come to life. This immersive experience inspired her to pursue a career as a registered dietician. 

“Immersive learning is the key to success for students,” Barge, a former Alumni Board President, said. “It’s amazing for WPU to have such an emphasis on providing these opportunities for students and to have the ability to implement such a quality curriculum.”

For decades, WPU has offered immersive classes like Barge’s. Her hands-on education signifies a long-standing University focus. 

Now, WPU is ensuring that immersive learning will impact students even more through a redesigned curriculum. According to Corvette, “At Peace, active learning that is meaningful and enriching for all students is at the heart of what we do, and immersive learning allows students to gain insights into themselves and their interactions with the world,”

Alumna Taylor Shaw ‘12, and current Alumni Board President, fondly recalls the immersive experiences she had when she attended WPU.

In a broadcast announcing class, her professor taught students how to read a teleprompter and project voices. Later in the semester students visited a news station and observed as the crew produced the daily program. Afterward, students were empowered to sit behind the anchor’s desk and try out the green screen. 

“Classes like these really connected the dots for me,” said Shaw. “I saw what I read in the textbook be applied in action in real life. I saw the possibilities of where these skills could take me.” Shaw now works in internal communications for Wake County Government.  

WPU’s emphasis on immersive learning really enriches the student experience, she added.

Immersive learning even goes back to 1950s and ’60s at Peace. 

Alumna Sara Jo Manning ’58 ’60 remembers her own “immersive experiences” as a Peace student. She recalls visiting the hospital for her health class and attending the symphony for her music courses. She said these experiences taught her things she could not learn in a classroom.

Manning now supports WPU’s immersive learning focus through the Manning Immersive Learning Experiences Fund. Previously known as the Manning Chamber Music Series Fund, the fund now provides students with educational and cultural experiences. 

Today, WPU graduates continue to thrive from academic experiences like these. 

Recent alumni Patrick Calhoun’s (‘23) experience with immersive learning resulted in a career opportunity with Duke Health. He recalls his Project Management class and how he and his peers were empowered to collaborate with local businesses to create an action plan as young management consultants. Calhoun notes, “This (experience) enabled me to put tasks into perspective aligned with organizational objectives and deadlines from a project’s inception to completion.”

WPU’s decades-long focus on hands-on learning demonstrates a continual commitment to both students and alumni, states Szymanski. “Revising the entire curriculum to be centered on what we know is best for students makes a WPU education truly distinctive,” she notes.