Experiential Learning Work
During my PhD I committed a great deal of time to enhancing experiential learning in my department and faculty. Experience based learning is one of the three core principles of my teaching philosophy. The other two are integration of systems thinking and safe challenging of assumptions.
A 2015 curriculum review focus group with students in my department indicated strong interest in experiential learning as it represents an alternative approach to learning more suitable to some student’s needs or simply offering a wider variety for learning. Given that experiential learning has immense benefits to students’ personal development, I ensure that my courses and TA sessions have a mixture of hands-on learning accompanied with academic rigor.
Teaching and Learning Associate
In the capacity of Teaching and Learning Associated I conducted workshops and interviews with Faculty members to survey attitudes and approaches to experiential learning. This resulted in a research-to-action report for the Dean of Environment and the development of the Experiential Learning Group. To further improve experiential learning I sat on the departmental Teaching and Learning Committee (TLC). The TLC is broadly committed and mandated to improve the quality and teaching and learning across the faculty of environment.
The research-to-action report identified several barriers and presented low-hanging fruit solutions, for example:
- Ensure that the extra time and effort put into EL classes is acknowledged by highlighting EL courses on the faculty websites, the TLC website, and used in marketing materials
- Ensure that the extra time and effort put into EL classes is acknowledge by creating a new metric that more justly accounts for EL in faculty workloads
- Encourage professors to offer EL components in more courses and to try to do one course focus on EL efforts
- Ask employers (i.e. The TRCA) what skills students should have and teach students those skills
- Greater collaboration with nonprofit groups, regional/local organizations, and community projects in the classroom
- Create an online database of:
- Easy to implement in-class EL activities,
- available infrastructure and projects and the names of those who can assist in utilizing it,
- listing easily accessible field trip locations (especially on campus), and
- resources for doing EL alongside traditional lecture-based courses.
- Educate professors annually on the technologies, services, and infrastructure products that are available to them with examples on how they can be used
- Emphasize to students the use of soft and implicit skills in job searches and in life through professional development seminars
- Streamline procedures by creating forms and ‘how-tos’ online for professors regarding ethics, health and safety, field trip rules, and EL
Indigenous Education in Sustainability
In an effort to support the existing Indigenous Education course offered in the department, I secured a grant to pay community educator Peter Schuler and conducted a short research study on immersive Indigenous education.
As part of this grant I studied effective ways of incorporating both emotional and personal journeys alongside critical engagement with course material. We developed an approached called “Critical Experiential Education” which is was employed in two Indigenous experiential courses in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. Students who take these courses gain both the benefits of experiential education and rigorous academic classes while being guided by learning outcomes meant for real world empathy.
In answering the calls of students for more in-house community building I coordinated the inaugural ENVigorate Faculty Festival, now on its seventh year, to encourage hands-on learning and community building. The festival aims to bring students, staff, and community members together in a learning experience that spans beyond your usual academic environment. The combination of food, music, workshops, and presenters allows participants to appreciate the rich community surrounding them. Workshops from my first year included bike repair, salsa dancing, soap making, micro greens, a swap shop, and more. The festival took on a life of it’s own and is still running.