The many faces of experiential learning
On November 20, 2015, Vivian Neal, an educational consultant in the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC), organized an Experiential Learning Dialogue titled “Learning Opportunities at Our Doorstep: Using Our Campus as a Living Lab” that brought together instructors from Health Sciences, Education and the Beedie School of Business. The dialogue highlighted the diverse ways in which SFU instructors collaborate with campus partners to create outside-the-classroom learning experiences. Anosha Ashfaq, a Beedie student who spent the fall term as a Work-Study student in the TLC, described the event from her perspective.
I was seated in the beautiful Halpern Centre lounge. The brisk morning sky was visible through the large glass-panelled room. Pen and notepad settled in my lap, I was ready to record the chronicles of the event. A small table lined across the far end of the room was laden with refreshments and a variety of vibrant fruits.
Vivian Neal started the morning off with a round of introductions. Comfortably seated in a semicircular arrangement, each of the attendees briefly went over the work they do.
Jenny Scott, a recent Health Sciences PhD who has been teaching for the past 10 years, and Alisa Stanton, who is engaged with Health and Counselling Services at SFU, were the first to share their story. I learned how the course HSCI 449 was created, through which SFU later partnered with elementary schools to revolutionize the structure of the course from lecture-based to experiential learning. It was refreshing to see instructors so keen on thinking of new ways to integrate experiential learning in classroom settings. The fruits of their efforts were evident when Scott mentioned that her past students still keep in touch with her because they felt more connected to the university after completing HSCI 449.
Hélène Lalancette, a lecturer from SFU’s Faculty of Education, was next to talk about her story, teaching EDUC 454. She is involved with training to-be teachers enrolled in the Faculty’s Professional Development Program, and her class emphasizes in situ investigations of environmental issues rather than conventional classroom activities. Her philosophy is that a lot of learning will be lost unless her students get over their fear of the outside. Despite some of the challenges she has faced, she has received inspiring student responses.
Lastly, Shauna Jones, case coordinator and senior lecturer in Beedie for BUS 202, and Al Jones, a Beedie lecturer, spoke about the design and delivery of BUS 202. BUS 202 started off as a welcoming course for transfer students and focuses on building students’ emotional intelligence, self-awareness and team-building skills through experiential learning. The course revolves around students collaborating in teams to market bookstore products, and later pitching their products to a panel of judges. Work-Study student Junone Kang, who was a student in the course, was present at the event and shared how excited he was to make a real-life impact on the bookstore.
Al Jones remarked that student evaluations for the course were lower than expected. I learned that a lot of students initially resist teaching methods that implement experiential learning. However, after completing such courses, they find the overall experience gratifying.
Each of the accounts of these dedicated instructors reflected their drive and genuine interest in the work they do. Listening to them relate their experiences was both an honour and a privilege, and I should hope that their work inspires the University as a whole to further the degree of experiential learning practices it uses.