Experiential education gives students an edge


Osgoode Hall Law School and the Faculty of Health at York University are implementing an experiential education (EE) component into the curriculum delivered to students. With support from the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) at York University, which has served as a catalyst for the initiative, both Faculties expect to have experiential education fully embedded in their programs by 2015.

Every Osgoode Juris Doctor (JD) student will be exposed to law in action through an experiential course or program as part of their legal education. Osgoode is the first law school in Canada to introduce an experiential education requirement – Lesley Breferred to at Osgoode as a “praxicum” – into the JD curriculum.

Lesley Beagrie, associate dean, Professional & Global Programs in the Faculty of Health

The Faculty of Health’s initiative – coined “making knowledge real” – will see every undergraduate student receive experiential education in some form over the course of their degree studies.

Both Faculties have cemented their commitment and hired staff to assist course directors as they incorporate experiential education initiatives into their teaching.

Osgoode has opened an Office of Experiential Education under the direction of Kimberley Bonnar, manager, experiential education & career development. The Office of Experiential Education serves as a catalyst for the development of new courses, programs and clinics, and provides support to the faculty, students and staff.

Robindra Sidhu, a researcher, experiential education expert and contract faculty member in the Faculty of Health, is embedded in the Teaching Commons at York University and is developing evidence-based pedagogical support that will benefit the entire University. In addition, Christopher Mallon has joined the Faculty of Health as its experiential education coordinator.

“Course directors in the Faculty of Health have come to value what experiential education can bring to teaching and through that understanding, it can enliven and make rewarding their teaching practice,” says AIF Project Champion Lesley Beagrie, associate dean, Professional & Global Programs in the Faculty of Health. “Experiential education is embedded as part of our DNA, our accountability, infrastructure and the kind of supports we have put in place.”

The Faculty of Health AIF project team has created a manual, and built policies and procedures around experiential education. Mallon has hit the ground running and is developing a network of community partnerships and identifying opportunities for faculty. In addition, Beagrie says that all of the Faculty’s units have created mission statements that include experiential education.

The resources created by the AIF project team under Beagrie’s leadership are being developed with the entire University in mind, with the idea that these resources will serve as a blueprint for other Faculties interested in deploying experiential education.

Students are also embracing the opportunities and Beagrie said her team is getting more requests from course directors who are interested in bringing experiential education into their courses.“Experiential education makes knowledge real for students in that they are using what they have learned through in-class EE activities and those with external partners,” she says.

At Osgoode Hall Law School, the new experiential component is part of a larger package of reforms to the law school’s upper-year JD curriculum that was approved by Osgoode Faculty Council in 2011, following three years of intensive consultation and collaboration between students, alumni, faculty and staff. It follows on the heels of the adoption a few years ago of first-year JD curriculum changes, including a pioneering course in ethical lawyering and a public interest requirement, and the introduction of a holistic admissions policy and process that foster equity as well as excellence. Together, Osgoode’s new JD curriculum is designed to integrate legal theory and legal practice in diverse and dynamic settings – whether in the classroom, across Toronto or around the globe.

“This is the time for us to introduce more experiential education in our JD program,” says Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin. “This approach to legal education means additional faculty involvement, more student engagement, community partnerships and enhanced administrative support, but the end result will be graduates who are focused on solving problems, responding to a rapidly changing legal landscape and becoming more reflective and collaborative professionals.”

New intensive programs in anti-discrimination law and intellectual property law have been developed and a new disability law intensive program will begin in September. Each of these programs is broadening the choices available to Osgoode students, and several other experiential courses, internships and clinical programs are also in development. Sossin said the AIF support has been an important catalyst for experiential education initiatives in the law school by providingsossinlarge support for the development of new EE opportunities. The law school’s commitment builds on its longstanding history in experiential education.

Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Lorne Sossin

Sossin notes that the law school, which has around 900 JD students, has been a leader in experiential education for several decades. Its EE offerings are the most extensive in Canada and among the most innovative in the world, including the Innocence Project, which involves students in the investigation of suspected wrongful convictions; the Mediation Intensive Clinical Program; the Criminal Intensive Program; the Osgoode Business Clinic; the Intensive Program in Poverty Law at Parkdale Community Legal Services; and the Community & Legal Aid Services Program.

The benefits for students are concrete, he says, and that law students apply what they have learned to helping real people with their legal concerns. Each intensive, internship and course opportunity in experiential education enhances students’ work experience over the course of their education, providing them with a distinct edge when it comes to finding employment after graduation.