In Their Own Words

Most Meaningful Learning at UI

To gain an understanding of students’ most significant learning experiences in their own words, we surveyed students and asked, “What is one of the most meaningful learning experiences you have had at UI?” 

More than 2400 students responded to this question. The most frequent theme identified in student comments reflected connecting UI learning across contexts, and almost as many identified increased self-awareness. Across themes, students often wrote about experiences that integrated learning from faculty and from one another, both in and out of class. This summary highlights some of the ways that students describe their learning:

Students describe learning from faculty and from one another, inside and outside the classroom.
  • "One of the most meaningful learning experiences I have had at the University of Iowa is getting the opportunity to learn from professors who love what they do. Their passion translates into their teaching and makes me appreciate the material more.
  • “If I never came to this campus I would have never been able to get so many experiences and knowledge from people all around the world. I think being here really helped formed my views on more realistic things and helped open my eyes and mind to be a better person.
  • "I am able to take courses and work on a capstone project on issues that I truly care about. It's definitely the most valuable learning experience during these four years, as I got to not only learn from reading textbooks, but also to learn from doing something in the community."
Students often describe their UI learning experience as a whole that is the sum of many parts.
  • “I think it has just been a combination of my classes, where I worked, student orgs that I am/was in, they have all shaped my experience here at Iowa. On top of all the academic parts of college, ... I have met people from all over with different backgrounds and ideas. I feel like I have taken bits and pieces of things and ideas that I like and it helped me grow into who I am today.”
  • “My time as a student athlete has been incredibly valuable shaping my work ethic, self-efficacy and thirst for a challenge. … My time as a research assistant has greatly impacted my intellectual confidence, group dynamic skills, appreciation of diversity, as well as both my written and verbal articulation techniques.”
  • “I think the most meaningful learning experience that I've had at the university is the one I'm still going through right now; the courses and conversations I've had here have really reinforced the idea that life is a learning experience. Going through all the experiences I've had in the past few years have helped me realize that hard work and being mindful is what really helps you learn and develop as an individual.”
Students often describe classes in terms of both what they learned and how they were changed as a result.
  • “I think that simply studying Geography, in any of the focus sections, is a wake-up call about my place in the world.”
  • “The most meaningful learning experiences I have had were my social work classes …. These classes have allowed me to grow as a person and better learn who I am and who I want to work on becoming. I have learned how to communicate with others, understand others, and step out of my comfort zone.”
  • “One learning experience … occurred when I got my first C on a paper. I learned about the fact that I've been looking at things one-dimensionally my entire life, and in order to fulfill some of college’s many expectations, I have to think more broadly.
When asked to describe meaningful experiences, most students focus on academic experiences, in or out of class, and on personal or interpersonal development.

The most frequently identified meaningful experiences were those that involved using their learning in other contexts, and almost as many highlight experiences that affected how they understand themselves.  

Other frequently occurring themes included development of leadership and collaboration skills, and just over one-fifth identified a course or instructor by name in their response. Not all individuals have only positive experiences to report, but nearly all report meaningful experiences that affected them in one or more of these ways.


Most frequently occurring themes represented in the comments are reported in this series of SERU Briefs, In Their Own Words:

This question was part of the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey, administered to all degree-seeking undergraduates at the University of Iowa. Just over 21% of students responded, and the profile of respondents was broadly representative of the undergraduate population in terms of academic characteristics, college, race/ethnicity, and year of study. 

Analysis for this project was carried out by Maisarah Mohd, supported by a research fellowship from the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU). The project was mentored by Wayne Jacobson in the Office of Assessment at the University of Iowa.