Deanna Rogers (left) and Jennifer McRae (right) were encouraged to approach Sarah Dench who gave them the green light and funding for their institution-wide survey.

Audit maps experiential education at SFU

October 06, 2011
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SFU will soon have a catalogue of all curriculum-based experientialeducation (EE) courses at the university, thanks to an exhaustive audit being done by recent graduates Deanna Rogers and Jennifer McRae for the VP Academic’s office.

The two Semester in Dialogue alums, who each earned bachelor’s degrees last year, have already compiled an inventory of for-credit courses considered to be experiential in approach in the Faculty of Environment (FENV) and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). They also engaged with faculty and students to better understand the culture of experiential education that already exists.

Their success in this first phase and a subsequent report on the project led to its expansion to an audit of the remaining six faculties, which they expect to complete by March 2012.

Experiential education refers to learning through doing, allowing students to apply their theoretical knowledge inside and outside the classroom. It’s about “marrying theory and practice,” say McRae and Rogers.

The researchers are gathering information from five sources—a faculty survey, a review of undergraduate and graduate course outlines, a course verification process, and consultations with faculty members, administrators, and students.

The EE project began in 2010 as a pilot led by Centre for Dialogue assistant professor Janet Moore with McRae serving as her research assistant. Rogers later joined the project, and the two were encouraged to approach Sarah Dench, director of university curriculum and institutional liaison in the VP Academic’s office, who gave them the green light and funding for an institution-wide survey.

“Jenn and Deanna’s project aligns perfectly with our current academic plan’s goal of providing more experiential education opportunities and recognizing all of them for credit, in addition to SFU’s widely respected cooperative education program,” says Dench.

The pair’s “overwhelming conclusion” so far, from their report on FENV and FASS, is that “not only is there strong interest in growing EE amongst faculty members, but a lot is already happening.”

They found that 71 per cent of FENV courses and 40 per cent in FASS have EE components falling under one or more of six broad practices: reflective experiences, field-based experiences, creative-based experiences, community-based experiences, collaborative experiences and directed studies/readings.

Their biggest surprise so far: “SFU profs are engaged and committed to exploring new ways of teaching, and at a research-focused university students don’t always assume that will be the case,” says Rogers. “We were blown away by how passionate professors are about their teaching.”

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