Exercises to calm and energize students at the start of a class and a placement with a community organization have something important in common: they are both types of experiential education (EE).
Experiential education refers to participatory opportunities that deepens a student’s connection to and understanding of the material, and there are many ways of bringing that material to life. Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, the interim AVP of Teaching & Learning, hosted an Experiential Education Celebration event on Nov. 7 to illustrate the possibilities for incorporating EE into courses: classroom experiences, community experiences and workplace experiences.
The afternoon was organized by Fisher-Stitt’s entire team, including staff from the YU Experience Hub, the Teaching Commons and Learning Technology Services. The event featured seven faculty presenters from a variety of programs and Faculties who explained or demonstrated the ways they use EE in their courses, highlighting the ways EE can be used by a diversity of disciplines across the three EE areas of Classroom, Community or Work.
“We’re excited to be able to share our EE experiences with you,” said Fisher-Stitt in her opening remarks. “We are eager to elevate the profile and presence of experiential education at York. It’s one of the university’s key initiatives and we want to encourage faculty to actively think about ways of incorporating EE into their courses.”
Rather than discuss how he employs EE in his global mental health course, Professor Harvey Skinner, dean emeritus of the Faculty of Health, engaged the audience in the sequence of activities his students execute as class begins: as a chime sounded, everyone followed a set of calming actions, followed by those designed the get the blood flowing, all based on Qi Gong and meditation practices.
“We do a guided practice to calm ourselves and finish the class with another relaxation exercise,” Skinner said, noting the increase in anxiety among today’s students.
Professor Janet Jones from the Faculty of Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) brings to her EE class a workshop-style of approach. Each group of students is a team that organizes, promotes and mounts a professional art exhibition in a Toronto gallery, giving them a deeper understanding of the experience of the professional artist.
Carolyn Steele, course director for Doing Culture: Narratives of Cultural Production in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, places students with community cultural organizations and asks them to create cultural strategy for the organization.
“It’s an opportunity for students to learn how the cultural sector runs and how the theories and concepts they learn are relevant to the lived experience,” Steele said.
Ravi da Costa and Ana Maria Martinez spoke about the Las Nubes semester abroad offered by the Faculty of Environmental Science. Students spend the summer term at York’s EcoCampus in Costa Rica, participating in interdisciplinary, experiential education courses that teach them about community development, environmental education, Indigenous peoples and tropical ecology. They also take part in a home stay that forces them out of their comfort zone.
“The students love the immersion part of their experience,” Martinez said. “Many say it is life-changing. It’s pretty amazing to see the connections the students make in such a short time.”
At the Glendon Campus, Valérie Florentin teaches the fourth-year capstone course for translation students. Her students are each given work for a client who requires professional translation; Florentin tries to match the students with topics that fit their interests and brings the clients to class to meet with the young translators.
“I bring the community into the classroom,” Florentin said.
“It’s a hands-on experience without risk, since I go over everything before they present it to the client,” she said. “They can show this piece to potential clients later and may also get recommendation letters as a result of their work.”
Denielle Elliott, an associate professor in Social Science in LA&PS, teaches the course, Engaging Health in Community. Their classroom learning is augmented by a placement with a health-related organization/agency where the students collaborate with their employers to conduct relevant research using social science research methods.
“Having a network of community-based organizations is critical to the success of this course,” Elliott said. “I interview the students in advance, so they know what’s involved, and I try to connect them with organizations that interest them.
“It has been a great success. Many receive summer or permanent job offers and others find it gives them access to competitive graduate programs.”
At the Lassonde School of Engineering, Bob Eichvald is the associate director of the co-operative education program that has grown in the four years it has existed, now serving 250 students. Students have the opportunity to complete work terms of four, eight, 12 and 16 months and all of the positions are full-time paid opportunities. Students alternate work terms with academic terms.
“The program improves their career confidence and their career management skills.”
With such varied methods for incorporating EE into York courses, Fisher-Stitt is hoping to see more faculty taking the plunge. She encouraged attendees to consider applying for an Academic Innovation Fund grant to bring their EE ideas to life. The AIF is seeking applications for projects that advance innovation in teaching, learning and the student experience. (https://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2019/11/04/yorks-academic-innovation-fund-aif-returns-with-another-call-for-innovative-and-transformative-ideas/)
The EE celebration was the first of two events showcasing York University’s expertise in teaching and learning. Faculty, staff and teaching assistants are invited to the second, a celebration of eLearning slated for Thursday, Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Second Student Centre on the Keele Campus. Seating is limited, so please RSVP in advance to discover how your colleagues are using technology-enhanced learning in their courses. (http://tl.apps01.yorku.ca/machform/view.php?id=80230).