New Project Commons showcases depth of experiential education at York University

Vari Hall
Vari Hall

Experiential Education (EE) at York University just got a lot easier with the launch of a new and innovative Project Commons created by the York Capstone Network team.

The Project Commons is a pan-University, open-access resource built with support from York’s University’s Academic Innovation Fund and the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) Teaching and Learning Development Grant.

Danielle Robinson
Danielle Robinson

“This is a space to find real-world, hands-on, research opportunities for students, year-round,” says Danielle Robinson, the director of the Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), executive director of the York Capstone Network and associate professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. “These 65-plus projects, grouped by themes, are connected with partners and organizations who want to help students make the world a better place.”

Liz Haines, the executive director of Story Planet, has four projects in the Project Commons. “The Project Commons is a great bridge between organizations seeking to support research integral to their mission, and the professors and students seeking real world experience,” says Haines. “By building this kind of connection real world learning on both sides can flourish.”

In addition to Story Planet, current partners include the MaRS Discovery District, Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Markham Arts Council, Jobster, Centre for Free Expression, TechConnex, the Canadian Language Museum, University Women’s Club, Peel Community Climate Council, Electronic Recycling Association, FYI: For Youth Initiative, YuRide, Barnes Management Group, and Nascent Digital. There are also several on-campus partners from York University that are participating in the Project Commons.

“The Project Commons amplified my understanding of what is possible in EE courses. As a result, I was able to develop a fourth-year bilingual EE class in Glendon College, based on a project-oriented capstone model that challenges students with real world problems that need to be solved,” says Sabine Dreher, a contract faculty member in the International Studies Department in Glendon College where she teaches courses on global political economy, religion and international relations. “My class will work with different community partners at Glendon to increase sustainability (food waste, fast fashion, and economic democracy), and students will be supported by mentors from the Project Commons.”

Some of the exciting, big-picture questions that can be found in the Project Commons include: 

  • What would a collaborative community-integrated and industry-based loop waste system look like that is engaging, affordable, scalable and effective?
  • What does a community-driven approach to celebrate and support Afro-diasporic heritage and promote paths to further learning look like?
  • Which policies and structures in Ontario and Canada would we revise to address anti-Black and systemic racism, and how?
  • How can student learning and well-being be supported by reaching out both locally and globally, in the wake of the challenges from COVID-19?
  • How can design and use of Artificial Intelligence be reframed to ensure more equitable benefit for all?
  • How would we reimagine city and rural spaces to make them more equitable, sustainable and healthy to live in?
  • How can we imagine repairing the cracks, tears and vulnerabilities in society that have been exposed through the challenges of social distancing?
  • How can countries better support their newcomers, to feel welcomed, supported and successful?
  • How can we support community efforts to enhance their own mental health and wellness?
  • How can interdisciplinary approaches to medical research and design speed innovation as well as accessibility?

“We are excited to be able to work for change with students and hope that our combined efforts will result in meaningful learning for all,” says Barbara Cook, president of the University Women’s Club of North York. Cook has five projects in the Project Commons. “This is a wonderful way for us to extend the reach of our advocacy work.”

new brand featured imageEE is integral to York University’s central narrative. The new Project Commons makes it virtually “plug-and-play” for professors in any Faculty, says Robinson, who notes that the Project Commons helps faculty members conserve their energy and time so that can be better invested back into their courses and research.

“The most helpful aspect of the Project Commons has been that it facilitates connections with community partners who are already thinking about what an experiential education collaboration looks like,” says Brandee Easter, an associate professor of writing in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “The Project Commons removes a great barrier to developing community partnerships by opening up the conversation about experiential education broadly, which then allows capstone instructors to find specific opportunities that achieve their course’s goals and outcomes.”

To learn more about the Project Commons, visit https://www.yorku.ca/c4/c4-project-commons/ to peruse the more than 65 unique projects on offer this year. Faculty wishing to connect with the people behind a specific project should email ycn@yorku.ca for an introduction.