An example of a roadside cross on I-69.

Immersive learning. As Ball State students, or even local residents, it is difficult to have not encountered this phrase floating around in our daily lives: it’s everywhere from billboards to the university website. Unfortunately, I believe that a true understanding of the philosophy behind this phrase eludes many of us. Students and parents are told that Ball State is unique because of its commitment to immersive learning. We are told that we will be hard pressed to find other comparable universities that have this dedication to immersive learning. Where this might be an effective marketing strategy, the simple, and even unfortunate, truth remains that until the immersive learning approach is experienced first hand, its true benefits cannot be measured. And make no mistake that when I say “benefits,” I truly believe that immersive learning positions students (and even instructors on some level) to examine their strengths and utilize them in a manner that allows for the greatest amount of potential.

I had the immeasurable pleasure of landing a spot of my own in one of these immersive learning projects. Ball State, through various foundations, has been gifted with the ability to offer an immersive learning program called the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, which essentially is a semester-long program in which students concentrate their entire class load into a single seminar class. This allows for an extensive and in-depth investigation of a topic, which may otherwise fly beneath the radar. For example, the seminar I’m in the process of finishing has focused on “Vernacular Memorials,” or memorials which do not necessarily follow the structures of religious or governmental organizations. Some might term this an “unofficial memorial.”

In an effort to not over-complicate my and my classmates’ endeavors over this semester, I’ll describe our three most distinct end projects and how immersive learning allowed us to realize these accomplishments. We knew going into this seminar that we hoped to produce an interactive online map, a documentary chronicling our efforts, and most importantly, a fully published book. While I can’t speak for my thirteen other classmates, I’m willing to assume that the skills they brought to this class, and much more importantly, what they took away were honed and polished and manipulated in such a way as to fit a much more “real world” environment. For our map team, this might include learning how to operate a software program that they will continue or go on to use in their careers. Or perhaps our documentary team was able to utilize its textbook knowledge and create a widely distributed documentary from beginning to end: from scripts to lighting to image and sound editing and everything in between. And then there’s our book. To condense an entire sixteen-week odyssey into a few sentences is impossible. As I mentioned above, to understand the immersive learning environment, you must immerse yourself in it. Let me just say that, especially as an English major, publishing a book ripped me from the desk in our classrooms and put me into a position which was, admittedly, uncomfortable in the beginning. My classmates and I were forced to collaborate and design a full-length publication. This involved odd hours and unending communication, something I’m not sure many students have really ever had to adjust to. It involved cold-calling complete strangers and asking to interview them. It involved endless hours of editing. It involved more editing. Several of us learned creative software from scratch, and some of us wore our imagination down to its bare essence by examining and reexamining photos and audio and film and text and research. We were made to step up and become leaders. Similarly, we were made to concede our efforts to the greater good of our seminar. Never have I been so interconnected to other people and their efforts. It’s odd to understand that without one of us contributing at full capacity, our project could have very realistically fallen apart. All in all, our seminar was not class. It was not work. It was a beautiful amalgamation of knowledge and skill-building and contributing to the outside world of greater understanding.

This all seems sporadic to read. But in the end, isn’t that exactly what the world outside of the comfort of the university is? After class and homework and portfolios, we spend hundreds of hours in academia attempting to learn and polish our craft. Unfortunately, this will never fully prepare us for the sporadical nature of our respective careers and endeavors. And this is where I believe immersive learning seeks to intervene. I have lived the late nights of editing and reading and working. I have understood the nature of collaboration and dependencies. I have been criticized and learned to accept my faults in an attempt to see the bigger picture. I have thrown myself into unknown territory and discovered talents otherwise unbeknown to me. And most importantly to me, I have published a book. Through it all, I have gained an understanding that my instructors will never be able to offer in a regular classroom.

Do not take immersive learning for granted. Ball State has capitalized on one of the most important attributes to my learning career. If not to have a book under your belt, or new and marketable skills uncovered, attempt the immersive learning approach for nothing else but to enter into an often-turbulent world after college with a firm grip on the anchor that is your career.

To see more from this particular seminar, visit the official website here.


The cover of the seminar's full-length publication.