The Faculty of Health held an event on May 6 to celebrate innovations in teaching that foster student learning. These innovations provide students with the important hands-on experience and leadership skills they will need to engage in meaningful careers as “Agents of Change” for health.
Faculty members, students and community partner agencies shared their experiences on innovative teaching and learning approaches. These included blended courses (combination of in-class and online learning) as well as hands on, experiential learning through either community-based research and projects or placements in the field.
The event included three information sessions that spanned a full spectrum of experiential education (EE) opportunities, including course focused learning with a panel speaking to the topic “How technology can increase engagement in the classroom” to community focused opportunities with a session on “Engaging the classroom in community-engaged scholarship.” To cap off the day, there was a round table discussion on the benefits of work focused experiential learning that included tips and best practices for developing placement opportunities for students.
Technology as a pedagogical tool for the course
Psychology Professor Gary Turner outlined his third-year blended course Neuroscience of Aging & Cognitive Health, which moves students through three phases that involve different learning approaches: in-class lectures to build a foundation of knowledge based on the textbook; an independent learning phase comprised of online learning modules, Moodle activities, a book club and research discussions; and an interactive phase in which students create Wikis using accessible language for a broader audience that described activities to encourage aging positively. This year, the best wikis were presented to a panel of older adults who were asked to determine if they would be willing to buy into to the proposed activity, According Faculty of Health teaching assistant, Tina Weston, students loved the variety of learning experiences – particularly the latter panel, which was reminiscent of the CBC TV show Dragon’s Den.
Professor Ron Sheese, a psychology colleague of Turner’s who teaches Introduction to Psychology, echoed these findings in his use of websites, online discussion boards, Wikis and SPARK (Student Papers and Academic Research Kit), an online set of 13 modules that equips students for their assignments. SPARK incorporates a full spectrum of skills, from understanding goals and expectations, to writing strategies, editing and citing sources. Sheese said his students found creating websites a better learning alternative to writing essays.
Global Health and Nursing Professor Lesley Beagrie presented the blended learning format she uses in her first-year Agents of Change in a Global World course. Beagrie’s course incorporates online forums with in-class presentations and group projects. In her course, students learn about the complexities surrounding social determinants of health (poverty and health inequities). Students also engage in collaborative learning and create reflective learning portfolios to build their critical thinking skills. They develop a group project framed by the question: how can one person make a difference? For this project, students were responsible for connecting with an “Agent of Change,” someone who has had a lasting impact on a social issue. One group interested in homelessness worked with Stephen Gaetz, a professor in York’s Faculty of Education and the director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, to create a Raise the Roof Chapter at York.
Beagrie said she valued the opportunity to use her class to foster student-led projects similar to those sponsored by the Faculty’s extra-curricular “Agent of Change” program. An example of the kind of project Beagrie referred to is the Autism Teenage Partnership, initiated by nursing student Jansen Chen in 2014, an initiative aiming to break down isolation and develop social skills through group recreation activities for teens with autism. The program has since gone on to receive funding from the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and the City of Toronto and was recently profiled in Maclean’s Magazine.
Engaging the Classroom in community-engaged scholarship
Students of Kinesiology and Health Science Professor Sherry Grace, who specializes in cardiac rehabilitation and chronic disease management, had the opportunity to try their hand at a community-based research project in collaboration with the Heart Wise Exercise Program sponsored by the University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute. Working with participating facilities where they collected and analyzed data – including interviews with both trainers and clients – to assess the effectiveness of the program. “The students produced an excellent report that will serve as a basis to explore more research questions” to improve program delivery,” said John Sawdon, senior program director at the Heart Wise Network.
Lorne Zon, professor in York’s School of Health Policy and Management, teaches a fourth-year Health Studies Project Management course. Students in his course apply theories toward understanding a health problem from a project management perspective. One project saw students consulting with Toronto Social Services and the Black Creek Community Health Centre to identify resources in support of a program for vulnerable single mothers based out of the Driftwood Community Recreation Centre, while avoiding program duplication in the community. “The student report was integral in assisting us in the development of the program,” said Jasmine Surkari, community recreation coordinator at the Driftwood Community Recreation Centre. The experience also gave students a practical understanding of local organizations, their clients and their challenges, added Zon.
Tips and best practices for developing placement opportunities
In the final session, Kathleen Winningham, manager of Employer Development & Experiential Education at York’s Career Centre, emphasized a crucial first step for programs looking to develop work focused unpaid placement opportunities for students would be to clarify their students’ skills sets and what makes them unique. She said that programs should also conduct an environmental scan with potential placement sites to determine both their interest in partnering with York and their suitability in terms of specific course or program learning outcomes. Andrea Meghie, manager of Clinical Resources in York’s School of Nursing, highlighted the challenges of securing placements for students when programs are competing with other universities and colleges for the same placement hosts.
Kinesiology and Health Science Professors Frances Flint and Kelly Parr, as well as Jessica Patterson, coordinate the School’s Athletic Therapy Certificate, one of only two programs in Ontario accredited by the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association. Their graduates have gone on to work for teams such as the Argos and Toronto FC or to become head therapists for postsecondary institutions across the GTA. Key to the program’s success was the leveraging of their York alumni who know the caliber of students – and are keen on mentoring students from their home program at their alma mater.
“This is the future of teaching and learning,” said Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinner, summing up the discussion on blended learning, technology as a pedagogical tool, as well as community-based projects and placements. He encouraged the event participants “to continue to spread this [innovative spirit] across the University.”