By Elaine Smith
With support from York University’s Academic Innovation Fund, Professors Carolyn Steele and Lynda van Dreumel have created Envision YU, a curriculum complete with tools and a pressbook in both English and French, to aid faculty in guiding students into university life and through it to the career world, building useful skills throughout.
Van Dreumel, an assistant professor and undergraduate program director for the Faculty of Health, was exploring ways to assist students in building necessary skills for success while transitioning to university when she met Steele, an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Steele was working on a project to assist students with their transition from university to the working world by building on classroom knowledge, skills and experience. The two teaching-stream faculty members decided to join forces to equitably support the student transition continuum from the time they enter the University to the time they graduate to the next stage in their lives – whether that meant the workforce or more schooling.
“We felt that this same continuum could happen in a single course, not only across courses,” Steele said. “An instructor could begin with preliminary reflection skills early in the course and advance to more complex applications of reflection later in the course to enable students to identify career interests emerging out of the course content.”
Along with a team of instructors, students and subject matter experts, the pair created the Envision YU curriculum with “tools and resources that professors can embed directly into courses and customize to fulfill learning objectives using course content, so students engage naturally and can build skills,” van Dreumel said.
Steele noted that when this is done iteratively, the students become more fluent with these skills and transition to the next stage of their lives with more agency and confidence.
The Envision YU resources and supporting materials include interactive activities (H5P-based lessons), videos, infographics, tip sheets and worksheets. Instructors can use the resources as-is, or they can tailor the resources based on their specific course requirements. Many of them have been student- and instructor-tested.
The Envision YU curriculum assists in building four capacities that are crucial to student success: reflection, self-regulation, teamwork and transfer. Faculty also have the option of incorporating resources developed for various stages of learning into their courses. The Envision YU curriculum has resources tailored toward different stages of skill development: comprehending, developing, applying and advancing.
Steele says these Envision YU capacities are ubiquitous, needed by all students, no matter their academic focus. For instance, she said, “The ability to transfer knowledge, skills and experience from one context to another is critical in today’s dynamic world, but many instructors’ expertise is focused only on academic contexts, and they are uncomfortable including material that stretches beyond their disciplines.
“Our toolkit helps instructors, so they aren’t expected to be experts in everything, yet can provide opportunities for students to master transition skills in their courses.”
There’s a big cognitive load for professors when they get into the more nuanced aspects of teaching, especially in terms of classroom-based experiential education. Many instructors don’t know the theory of reflective writings and are, thus, ill-equipped to teach their students how to reflect critically. With the resources in Envision YU, they can use one or more of the several reflective assignments to guide their students to reflect critically on the syllabus, assignment feedback, course-based experiences, their skills, values, and the relevance of course topics and readings in their students’ lives.
“Envision YU is about the impact you can have on your students – not only in class, but down the road. We want to provide instructors with the flexibility and self-confidence to integrate these skills in courses across the curriculum,” said Steele.