York wins grant to assess its community-based learning approaches

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) has granted York $25,000 to assess its community-based learning and service-learning approaches.

Altogether 13 research projects at Ontario’s colleges and universities won two-year funding to examine their strategies to support effective teaching and learning.

“I think it is really exciting that HEQCO is beginning to fund this kind of research,” says Ros Woodhouse (left), academic director, Centre for the Support of Teaching. Up to now, she says, it has been very difficult to get funds for research on teaching and learning in postsecondary education. Federal research granting agencies have traditionally supported disciplinary research, she says, and Canada lags behind other countries in research on new and better ways to teach and learn at the university level. HEQCO’s funding “will help students down the road.”

Woodhouse and two others – Rhonda Lenton, associate vice-president academic and vice provost; and Glenn Craney, executive director, Office of Institutional Research & Analysis – applied for the grant and are working as a team on the study along with Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, associate vice-president academic learning initiatives.

They aim to compare York’s two approaches to experiential learning. One is community-service learning, where students go out of the classroom to work with organizations in the community. The other is community-based learning – an approach unique to York, says Woodhouse – in which local agencies or businesses bring real-world projects for students to complete as part of their coursework.

Four half-time researchers will be hired with the grant money in January, when they will begin to conduct formal questionnaires and assess the quality of student assignments.

“We know that experiential learning can help students learn better,” says Woodhouse. “And it often makes learning more exciting.”

If the results of York’s study show that community-based learning enriches the student experience, “it could be very helpful for universities everywhere,” says Woodhouse. And it would bolster the goals of the University’s 2010 White Paper, “Building a More Engaged University”, to enhance the quality of students’ academic experience by providing them with opportunities to apply what they are learning.