March 21, 2019

First-year students at Glendon Campus have the opportunity to develop sound life-long learning skills, thanks to a course called Pathways to Life-Long Learning.

Rosanna Furgiuele

The three-credit course, developed with an Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grant by Rosanna Furgiuele, academic director of Glendon’s student exchange program and the Ontario-Rhône-Alpes Student Exchange program, and David Ip Yam, the project director of student service excellence, employs experiential seminars to teach students fundamental and advanced skills for learning, both in the university setting and in their later lives. This research, writing and reflection-intensive course represents an integrated approach that advocates academic success, personal development and engagement, and aligns with Dr. Alf Lizzio’s Five Senses of Student Success (2006).

“I have always believed that to ensure student success, which leads to retention, it is important to foster academic success, contribute to personal growth and promote a balanced, healthy lifestyle,” said Furgiuele.

The pathways course presents modules on a variety of valuable topics, including:

  • critical and creative thinking;
  • research, information literacy, writing and presentation skills;
  • memory, note-taking, studying and test-taking techniques;
  • goal setting, academic and financial decision-making, and career exploration;
  • interpersonal and leadership skills;
  • energy management;
  • test-taking and making presentations;
  • motivation, optimism, resilience and stress management;
  • self-reflection, self-efficacy and self-regulation.

The course culminates in an academic research, presentation and writing capstone.

“Put simply, this course provides students with the opportunity to practise, use and critique a depth and breadth of research-based success strategies,” said Ip Yam. “As a result, students learn the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to be successful in university and in life.”

David Ip Yam

Pathways to Life-Long Learning was first taught in 2016 and has been going strong ever since. A French-language version of the course was unveiled this term.

Of course, Furgiuele and Ip Yam didn’t rely on anecdotal evidence to determine the success of their course. Following its unveiling, they undertook a qualitative survey to assess its merits. The survey results showed that students who took the first-year seminar reported statistically higher levels of academic development (writing clearly and effectively; speaking clearly and effectively; thinking critically and analytically; working effectively with others; and acquiring job/work-related knowledge or skills) and personal development (developing personal, career and academic goals; developing a personal code of values and ethics; feeling motivated and engaged in studies; becoming a lifelong learner) compared to students who did not take the course.

“The reasons for the course’s success, based on my interpretation of the course evaluations, were threefold,” said Ip Yam, the course instructor. “First, the course set high expectations for performance balanced with highly scaffolded course design; second, it required significant investment of time and effort by students in class and in between classes; and, finally, it immersed students in active teaching and learning strategies, which promoted interaction, reflection and constant feedback.”

The course has also been independently evaluated. The Institute for Social Research at York conducted in-depth interviews with 13 students from the inaugural class. The students identified studying, note-taking and time-management skills as the key lessons they learned from the course, because they were skills that were readily applicable to their other classes. They also expressed surprise and delight at the benefits to their emotional and interpersonal development, which stemmed from collaborative activities and assignments.

The interest Furgiuele and Ip Yam have demonstrated in enhancing the first-year experience extends beyond Pathways to Life-Long Learning. Working in partnership with educators from Learning Skills Services and Student Well-Being, they are adapting the course contents to an online platform, creating the virtual platform for Student Resiliency, Learning Skills and Well-Being. The pair are also developing a virtual skill-learning program that will offer students in-depth education in learning skills in a dynamic eLearning environment.

In addition, in collaboration with the Office of the Associate Vice-President Teaching & Learning and the Division of Students, they will be hosting York University’s April 25 Forum on Student Success: Making the case for an integrated approach.

“The first-year experience, particularly transition pedagogy, is crucial in laying the foundation for student persistence and optimizes the chances for success by focusing on academic skills and self-efficacy,” said Furgiuele. “Learning strategies are the building blocks for key transferable skills that students will use throughout their lives and particularly in their future careers.”

Both Furgiuele and Ip Yam urge their colleagues to follow in their footsteps in improving the first-year experience.

“We would like to encourage the Faculties and administrators to leverage what we have created to design and develop first-year seminar/Uni 101 courses on a systematic scale so that all students in their first year of study have access to such important learning and development opportunities,” they said.

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus