York offers experiential education to area high-school students

A new endeavour piloted by York’s Experiential Education program offered 20 high-school students an insider’s view of engaged learning at York University.

The students from Thornlea Secondary School in Thornhill spent a full day on March 10 at the Keele campus working with undergraduate students from York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) on four experiential education projects.

Left: Thornlea Secondary School students and York students listen to an overview of the day’s activities and goals

Experiential education (EE) is a form of engaged learning that blends theory and coursework with practical, hands-on experience. As part of their academic studies, LA&PS students apply key course concepts to a wide variety of case studies and projects involving both profit and non-profit organizations. The students work with faculty members who serve as guides in the background and scope of the projects.

The Thornlea students were from the high school’s new Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) Program, an initiative developed by Ontario’s Ministry of Education that gives high-school students an opportunity to focus their learning on a specific economic sector while still meeting the requirements for their high-school diplomas. As part of the SHSM Program, students are involved in learning initiatives that offer them exposure to “reach ahead” experiences connected to their chosen postsecondary pathway.

“SHSM is a specialized program that allows high-achieving students to experience a range of customized, career-focused learning opportunities while working towards their diploma,” said Geoff Webb (right), LA&PS manager of experiential education. “Thornlea Secondary School has been certified as an SHSM school with an electronic media and international business focus.”

The students collaborated with EE students to examine and discuss four real-world situations or live cases in the disciplines of information technology, marketing, human resource management and public policy and administration. The EE projects involved private and public sector parnters such as EKOS Research Associates, Tennis Canada, Evergreen and the Canadian Red Cross.

The EKOS Research Associates project undertaking tasked the student teams to review the company’s Probit Recruitment Services Web site, which EKOS said needed an overhaul to give it a unique identity by de-emphasizing the company brand. Students were asked to review the Web site’s current user interface and develop a revised layout for the Web site and content architecture to meet the needs of the company’s target audiences.

The Tennis Canada project focused on marketing. Specifically, students were asked to consider the organization’s free family weekend that takes place every year during the qualifying weekend for the Rogers Cup. Given that in 2009, less than half of the 25,000 free tickets were used, the project involved developing strategies to increase the use of the free tickets and to consider why so few tickets were actually used and whether the term “free” diminished the quality of the tickets. Students were asked to brainstorm about what advertising and promotional opportunities could be utilized to reach more people in the Greater Toronto Region.

As a charitable organization devoted to building sustainable outdoor spaces in Canadian schools, businesses and homes, Evergreen was seeking input regarding the development of a human resource survey that could be administered to its current employees to gauge levels of employee satisfaction and productivity related to the charity’s compensation framework.

The Canadian Red Cross initiative tasked students to consider a public policy project opportunity directed at immigrant youth. Students were asked to address problems of social integration and isolation that adolescent immigrant youth encounter during their first few years of settling into Canadian society. The Red Cross asked the York team to identify what problems immigrant youth face and how the problems differ from those faced by Canadian youth. Also considered were the issues of segregation and social isolation and how the agency could address the issues through programming.

At the end of the day, the Thornlea student teams shared their findings with the EE students for review, discussion and feedback. Both groups are continuing to communicate with each other about the projects through Moodle, an open source computer-based learning management system.

“This was a really unique experience and as a Grade 12 student it was really great that there are trips like this for our education – getting to know future jobs and university courses related to a business-type degree,” said one Thornlea student. “Also, we learned today that if you are really interested in business, yet then realize how much different it is than what you thought it would be, then you still have time to change your program.”

Above: At the end of the day, the Thornlea students were asked to fill out a survey rating their experience at York. They also received York T-shirts.

The Thornlea students filled out a survey rating the experience and Webb said the results were illuminating. “‘Working on real world issues and applying my learning to a topic that is important to me’ was a comment frequently cited by the Thornlea students in the survey,” said Webb. “A majority of the students agreed with the statement that the EE project was relevant to the SHSM studies and that EE is something they want to pursue when attending university.”

For more information on the program, visit the EE Web site or contact Gleb Matushansky, EE coordinator, at 416-736-2100 ext. 22514.