Eager to expand your university education through experiential learning?
It’s Friday morning. You’re sitting in class, coffee in one hand, pen in the other. The professor is saying interesting things. She has good illustrations. She’s asking students questions. And they’re answering! Everyone seems engaged. But your brain is sludgy today, stuck in neutral. And you’re slouching, hoping to remain invisible.
“Drink more coffee — that’ll help,” you think. “Write something down, like that guy over there. C’mon, brain, this could be on the midterm!”
Most students have days like these. Sometimes, and for some topics, practice trumps theory. For something to stick, you need more action, interaction, maybe some clearer applications.
Concordia is a national leader in innovative teaching practices — one of the university’s nine strategic directions is Teach for Tomorrow — and the university’s professors know well the benefits of classroom teaching. But they also know its limits.
That’s why the university has long had a complementary commitment to learning by doing, also known as experiential learning (EL).
Concordia started Quebec’s first university-based co-operative education program in 1980. The university has run field and exchange courses for decades. These initiatives all support another strategic direction: Get Your Hands Dirty.
‘We offer so many ways for students to get hands-on learning’
“A concrete experience, followed by reflection, abstraction, experimentation and cycling back to the experience, is a process that results in optimal learning outcomes,” says Nadia Bhuiyan, vice-provost of Partnerships and Experiential Learning.
Andrea Rosenfield and Doan Nguyen, both MA candidates in Educational Studies at Concordia, worked as research assistants with Bhuiyan to map out EL opportunities across Concordia.
"What we found surprised us — we offer so many ways for students to get hands-on learning," Bhuiyan says.
Experiential learning opportunities at Concordia are varied and vast. They include some 2,400 co-op placements and 1,100 internships, more than 1,200 courses that integrate EL, 16 field schools, 134 international experiences and much more.
To coordinate its ever-expanding EL offerings, Concordia launched two major projects:
- An EL office and website to coordinate, support and communicate activities across the university and with partner organizations, organize workshops, and offer the services that departments and programs may need.
- An EL web roadmap, a tool that allows students to browse for EL opportunities and create a personal EL roadmap to complement their studies.
The two research assistants also consulted with students across the university to find out more about what the future of experiential learning should look like. The more the better was the clear message.
"Of course, we’d still like to do better — we would love to see every student benefit from at least one EL experience before they graduate,” Bhuiyan says.
Want to learn more? What follows are just some of the university’s current EL projects.
Developing EL skills
Concordia’s Student Success Centre (SSC) and Career and Planning Services (CAPS) partnered with Bhuiyan to help prepare undergraduate students to get the most out of EL by offering skill-building opportunities in key relevant areas.
As a part of SSC’s new program FutureReady, which began its pilot phase in fall 2018, the centre will offer guidance and activities in four core-skill modules: Communication and Digital Capabilities, Career Development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Leadership and Collaboration.
These modules help students develop skills such as communication, teamwork, coordination, active listening and self-awareness, which are among the key skills identified in a survey of all faculties as being important for a successful EL journey.
Students who complete four activities in a FutureReady core-skill module receive a certificate that outlines their new credentials.
This past year, the Institute for Co-operative Education grew by a whopping 24 per cent. More employers now understand the value of hiring students, while more students are applying to the program to gain key skills and experiences during their academic life.
Not only are more Concordia programs adopting a co-op component, but there are new specialty work-integrated learning programs, such as Accelerated Career Experience (ACE), the 16-month internship program at Bombardier Aerospace, or the CEO shadowing program now being offered to MBA students at the John Molson School of Business (JMSB).
To scale up on micro-experiential learning opportunities, Concordia has partnered with Riipen. The platform connects students, educators and organizations through real-world industry or community-project experiences.
Danielle Morin, professor in the JMSB’s Department of Supply Chain and Business Technology Management, used Riipen last term to connect students in her Managerial Analytics (MBA 643) course to the Toronto Police Service.
Morin says she wanted them to encounter a real-life situation of data analytics. For many of the students, it was their first consulting experience.
“I found myself talking about this project to family and friends because I was so excited to work on it,” student Courtney Legault reports.
“It’s nice when you can take things you learn in class and apply them to the real world.”
Her classmate, Christina Marcoux, appreciated Riipen’s integration with her LinkedIn profile. She describes the project as the next level beyond a case study.
“Having a ‘client’ in mind while developing your project pushes you to dig deeper and deliver a better final product.”
Morin says she hopes to use Riipen for more advanced analytics courses in the future.
Concordia is known for its strong ties to communities in Montreal — and also halfway around the world. CEED, which stands for Community. Empowerment. Education. Development, offers three-month summer internships in northern Uganda. Every year, Concordians work with Ugandan youth on environmental sustainability, developing entrepreneurship and more.
CEED’s Youth Entrepreneurship Program seeks to give Uganda’s surplus of university graduates the tools to start their own business and create jobs for others:
New international opportunities
Field schools are short-term, off-campus, for-credit academic programs that offer students the opportunity to learn through experiences within a specific cultural or geographical context. And they’re becoming more popular at Concordia. Last fall, four students reported back about their rewarding experiences in Iceland, Israel and Colombia.
Furthermore, Concordia recently signed an agreement with Mitacs that will allow professors to send their students to do paid research internships at partner universities around the world for a minimum of three months. Students can contact their departments to find out more.
The District 3 launchpad
District 3 is the university’s entrepreneurial innovation hub. In just five years of operation, D3 has launched careers and become a major node in Montreal’s internationally renowned innovation community. It has also become one of the university’s top choices for experiential learning.
Since 2017, D3 has offered internships through the Graduate Certificate in Innovation, Technology and Society. In the first term of the eight-month program, participants focus on learning innovation best practices; in the second, they complete a practicum.
In the certificate’s first year of existence, 15 Concordians representing all four academic faculties collaborated with entrepreneurs, researchers and experts to develop solutions for six different organizations and startups on the theme “quality of life.” They explored emerging technologies through case studies on the use of artificial intelligence in enhancing mental health, blockchain applications, sustainable food and access to medical clinics.
Victoria Cooke completed her certificate’s practicum at D3 in summer 2018.
“I really wanted to find ways to put the theory that I learned in my undergrad into practice,” she explains. With a background in Indigenous studies and social justice studies, Cooke used her internship to focus on designing more equitable futures.
“So often we can talk about things like systemic oppression, but don’t actively seek new ways of living and communicating with each other beyond the status quo,” she explains.
“This certificate was an opportunity for me to step outside my comfort zone and delve deeper into how to actually make innovation happen, whether for a startup or even within interpersonal relationships. There are concepts and tools that can help, but I learned that a lot of what determines success is how you communicate with your team and whether you’re truly willing to adapt to change.”
Learning by getting involved
Students have incredible opportunities to get hands-on learning through extra- or co-curricular activities. Whether it's building robots or satellites, or organizing business case competitions, or 60 students designing, choreographing and performing 60 one-minute compositions, getting involved can give you alternative channels for EL, and they can be recorded in your co-curricular record. It’s more than likely that you’ll be able to find a student association that fits with your program or area of interest.
Build your potential
But it's not just students and teachers; employers and governments recognize EL’s importance too. Across Canada, more than 70 per cent of students indicated that experiential learning opportunities were among the top four scholastic activities that contributed to their personal growth and development. And 80 per cent of employers say co-op and internship students are a source of new talent and potential employees.
At Concordia, in a survey where students were asked to rank 10 items in terms of how they could improve their learning, EL ranked number 1. About four in 10 undergraduates report participating in forms of experiential learning, and another two in 10 have plans to do so.
Find out more about experiential learning opportunities at Concordia.