Experiential education thrives at Glendon

Experiential education (EE) initiatives thrive at Glendon. In a variety of courses, Glendon offers students the opportunity to enrich their academic experiences through placements in organizations whose work dovetails with course content.

Co-Interim Principal of Glendon Campus Ian Roberge

Co-Interim Principal of Glendon Campus Ian Roberge

A dedication to EE is woven into the very fabric of the wider York community, as demonstrated by the University Academic Plan 2015-20. There is a focus on experiential education as one of the key means of enhancing the quality of teaching and student learning throughout York University. The breadth of these experiential learning experiences offered by Glendon showcases its immense value in enhancing teaching, learning and the student experience.

“Experiential education is a priority for Glendon as we see the positive impact it has on student lives inside and outside the classroom,” said Glendon Co-Interim Principal Ian Roberge. “The exchange of ideas that is fostered during EE programs is truly beneficial to students, but also to our community, as we strive to continually offer new ways to engage with course material.”

The YU ROC! (York University Research on Campus) program, for example, not only offers a hands-on environmental monitoring experience, but provides students with a chance to be part of two larger international wildlife monitoring networks. The program, offered by Laura McKinnon, assistant professor of biology, takes students out of the classroom and into the natural environment of Glendon’s 34.3 hectares of ravines, park lands and gardens as part of a pilot project to document the biodiversity that exists there.

“Students have the chance to acquire meaningful hands-on experience in running biodiversity monitoring programs while fostering a sense of environmental stewardship for their campus,” said McKinnon, who notes that the programming, which targets first-year students, is student driven.

The Glendon Campus is home to 34.3 hectares of ravines, park lands and gardens that provides students with many opportunities to study the area’s rich and diverse flora and fauna

The goal of the program is for students to establish a long-term biodiversity monitoring program covering four taxonomic groups: invertebrates, plants, birds and mammals. Students can choose to focus on their taxa of interest and contribute to an ongoing record of the changes to the biodiversity of the campus. Throughout their degree, they document the growth and decline among various types of flora and fauna and try to understand the underlying reasons for any changes. The data they collect contributes to larger conservation efforts by the Urban Wildlife Information Network, based at the Chicago Zoo, and the Global Malaise Trap Program based at the University of Guelph.

“We have turned our entire campus into a classroom and invited students to explore its surroundings and develop a sense of environmental stewardship,” said McKinnon. “In an era of intense anthropogenic stressors, it is extremely valuable to understand how to measure changes scientifically and to see how our data are connected to larger patterns around the world.”

Glendon students enrolled in Le français par l’expérience (Experiencing French), similarly gain skills in their field through an immersive placement with a community partner organization. The course is offered by Usha Viswanathan, assistant professor at the Language Training Centre for Studies in French, and allows students to significantly improve their French language skills

“By being fully engaged in a francophone environment, students boost their confidence through second language acquisition and strengthen their intercultural competencies,” said Viswanathan.

They also gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges, concerns and successes that affect local francophone communities.

The partners who have provided Viswanathan’s students with work placement opportunities include various francophone schools; the newspaper L’Express de Toronto; Centre d’accueil d’héritage, a heritage centre; Club canadien de Toronto, a hub for the French-speaking community; Éditions du GREF, a French-language publishing company; and Groupe Média TFO, a production company for French media content.

Last year, Glendon students Alaina Thomas and Juan Moncaleano worked with seniors at Centre d’accueil d’héritage, offering digital literacy workshops each week. They deepened their connections with the francophone community and their understanding of la francophonie while providing valuable services to an often under-served population.

Last term, Nicole Blommesteyn, an international studies major at Glendon, accepted a work placement at Morse Street Junior Public School, a Toronto French immersion school.

“I was offered an internship placement through FSL 2200 that enabled me to practice my French language skills outside of the classroom,” Blommesteyn said. “This internship gave me the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in FSL courses at Glendon to a practical conversational setting. I would recommend this course to anyone who would like to improve their speaking skills while exploring a new learning environment. It was a lot of fun and will definitely be a highlight of my time at Glendon.”

Glendon students view a selection of archived public history documents

Students who register for Histoire vivante: créer l’histoire du grand Toronto, a fourth-year public history course at Glendon, are given a hands-on experience to learn about the theory, methodologies and practices of professional historians who work outside academic institutions in places such as museums, libraries, archives and the media. Audrey Pyée, associate professor of in the Department of History, asks students to bring Toronto’s history to life through experiential education projects. During the fall term, students explored relevant literature from the field and created podcasts or videos to disseminate interesting information on a site of historical commemoration.

“This project allows them to apply theory to practice and sharpens both their communication and media literacy skills,” said Pyée.

The students have an in-depth opportunity to bridge theory and practice during the winter term, when they each undertake a 12-week placement with a heritage or cultural institution, such as Heritage Toronto, the Textile Museum of Canada and the Multicultural History Society of Canada. These placements not only give the students an opportunity to bring Toronto’s history to life, they also acquire value skills that will serve them well professionally.

As part of their experiential learning, this group of Glendon students paid a visit to the historic Spadina House in Toronto

In 2017-18, three students did work placements at the Canadian Language Museum where they created a video on Indigenous languages in Toronto titled Two Row Wampum: Preserving Indigenous Languages in Toronto. The project required them to interview Indigenous-language speakers from across Canada who are now living in the Greater Toronto Area. The documentary is now part of the museum’s digital exhibit.

“In this course, students examine the production of public history,” said Pyée. “They spend 12 weeks discovering how cultural and historical institutions function, and they are responsible for researching and creating a project explaining an aspect of Toronto’s public history. They explore their interest in history outside the academic context, utilizing methods from the discipline. The course also teaches them about the possibilities of careers in history in various types of organizations, such as historic sites, museums and archives.”

These courses and more at Glendon showcase a myriad of ways in which faculty members can provide their students with valuable experiential learning opportunities that enhance both their knowledge and their skills.

By Elaine Smith, with files from Julie Marguet