Five examples of experiential learning on campus and what you can do to support it

Contribute to the vision of experiential learning

By Erin Kaipainen and Rachel Braun, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Experiential learning (EL) engages students in cycles of direct experience, focused planning, repeat testing and critical reflection to increase their knowledge, develop new skills and promote new ways of thinking. “There is incredible expertise in facilitating experiential learning activities across campus. We want to leverage that knowledge, connect educators and advisors who are doing this work, and enhance capacity across campus to engage more of our students in these powerful opportunities,” explains Dr. Leslie Reid, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning). “We invite the campus community to contribute to the vision for experiential learning at UCalgary.”

Leading up to the opening of a centralized unit to support the expansion of EL at the University of Calgary (UCalgary), the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (TI) seeks feedback from educators involved in this work. Input from the campus community will help shape resources and programming to enhance EL at UCalgary, as well as capture the diversity in programming available at the graduate and undergraduate level.

Experiential Learning Survey

Do you implement or support an experiential learning activity? If so, we’d like to learn more about its strengths and challenges, and the supports you would need to enhance it. Please take this four-question survey to share your thoughts.

If you are interested in experiential learning and would like to learn more about what your colleagues are doing, we’ve compiled five examples from across campus:

1. English 520 – Community Engagement Through Literature

Students work in partnership with an after-school reading program with the Calgary Public Library to explore how the knowledge gained through English can contribute to the community. Students reflect on their learning through D2L discussion boards and write a review paper connecting assigned readings and their community placement. As Dr. Stefania Forlini (Associate Professor of English) describes, “With every iteration of the course, we continue to strengthen our partnership with CPL and to gain valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of community-engaged learning, even as we begin to imagine other such courses.”

2. Campus as a Learning Lab – Office of Sustainability

Many EL programs look to the broader community, but the Office of Sustainability’s Campus as a Learning Lab (CLL) initiative engages EL with a sustainability focus right here at UCalgary.

“Using post-secondary campuses as labs for applied sustainability learning and research is a growing trend across North America. Students have the opportunity to use their skills, knowledge and creativity to address sustainability challenges we are facing here on campus,” explains Rachelle Haddock, project coordinator for CLL. The CLL also connects members of the campus community exploring different aspects of a similar issue, as was the case with artist Dylan McLernon and Dr. Ralph Cartar, Associate Professor in Biological Sciences. After learning about declining bee populations through his studies in Fine Art, McLernon sought a way to use his artwork to help bees. In what might otherwise be an unconventional partnership, the CLL connected the two, leading to McLernon’s innovative design for ceramic bumblebee domiciles. They are now being field tested by Dr. Cartar and are also on display at the Nickle Galleries until September 16.

3. Werklund School of Education – Service-Learning Placements

All pre-service teachers are required to complete a series of field experiences as part of their program. Approximately 40% of B.Ed students also complete some form of co-curricular experiential learning with one of 30 community partners. Michael Holden, Youth Leadership Facilitator in the Werklund School of Education describes this work as, “giving students the opportunity to collaborate with leaders in education, to understand and resolve challenges facing the communities that we are all a part of.” Students also have an option to complete an enhanced section of the Diversity in Learning course (EDUC 450). This course has been recognized by a series of awards and is unique in its origins – whereas most service-learning programs are designed by educational institutions, the roots of the service-learning for diversity program started with a proposal from community organizations serving children and youth of immigrant families.

4. Kaleidoscope and ucalgarycares Immersion Experiences

Over Reading Week, students can elect to participate in one of two co-curricular (non-credit) experiences that complement their formal studies. In Kaleidoscope, students “engage in learning, conversation and action with others who may have a different background or viewpoint,” explains Adriana Tulissi, Manager of the Faith & Spirituality Centre. Participants complete an intercultural development plan, visit a variety of sacred sites, participate in religious practices and explore case studies in religion and spirituality. In ucalgarycares, students live, learn, and volunteer in Calgary, Toronto, Costa Rica, or with First Nations communities in the Yukon. Staff from across Student and Enrolment Services volunteer to lead the programs. They support students across diverse tasks from mixing cement and navigating the language barrier, to learning from their experiences through a series of reflective activities.

5. Masters in Biomedical Technology (MBT) Program

The Masters in Biomedical Technology (MBT) Program seeks to prepare graduates to pursue successful careers in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Coursework in biomedical sciences and business prepares students to deliver a business pitch for a biomedical innovation prior to completing a 12-week paid internship. “Our graduates are highly versatile in leveraging their experience in the MBT program and recognized by businesses nationally and internationally for their knowledge and experience in technology commercialization and entrepreneurism. As a former student of the MBT program, I personally benefited immensely from an international internship at Mayo Clinic,” reflects Sabiha Zaman, Program Coordinator and Instructor in the Cumming School of Medicine. “This experiential learning opportunity enriched and fostered my interest in research and education [and] certainly sets our graduates apart and enables them to be more competitive and successful after graduation.”

An earlier version of the EL survey released in July had the goals of creating a baseline of EL activities on campus and capturing educators’ perspectives on how we can expand and enhance EL opportunities. The survey has since been simplified to four questions. So far, survey feedback has captured a glimpse of the immense diversity and complexity of EL at UCalgary.

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