Experiential Learning grants brew innovative courses

Engineering students will have a double-double learning experience when professor Lauren Briens guides them through the chemistry and business of a perfect cup of coffee.

Students in professor Kim Solga’s class, meanwhile, will immerse themselves in the theatre of life in a course integrating political science, medicine and policing as performance art.

The unique courses are among four active-learning projects to be developed, with and for students, in the début year of the Experiential Learning Innovation Scholars Program supporting the work of five innovative professors.

The program provides $20,000 across two years in each of the four projects, to help professors design novel courses with their students, and then share what they’ve learned with the academic and broader community.

One aim is to allow students to learn in new ways and apply knowledge and skills in a way that benefits them and their communities, said Aisha Haque, acting director of Western’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.

“Experiential learning is essential for students: it helps them develop transferable skills, apply what they are learning in the classroom through hands-on practice, establish meaningful connections with peers and community members and critically reflect on their learning,” Haque said.

“The four award winners will make significant contributions to the landscape of curricular experiential learning in their departments.”

Haque said it’s important that students be partners in designing how they learn. “We really wanted student voices to be at the heart of these initiatives, and I think our award recipients found creative and meaningful ways to empower students.”

Experiential learning may take the form of simulations, field courses, industry partnerships, case-based learning or community projects. Year one of the program starts next month, with the course put into action in the second year.

Professors named experiential learning innovation scholars are:

Lauren Briens, chemical and biochemical engineering:

‘Engineering Coffee’ will combine and demonstrate chemical engineering using coffee as a teaching tool. Students’ learning will include experiences in the lab and in a café ­— combining the chemical engineering process of a good brew with the business side of engineering. “The ability to combine concepts into new and different ways requires students to think flexibly, determine alternatives and to find new solutions; these skills will be critical to their success as engineers,” Briens said.

Dr. Nicole Campbell and Dr. Sarah McLean, physiology and pharmacology and interdisciplinary medical sciences:

Community-engaged learning, simulation, case studies and wet laboratories will be embedded into capstone courses for the honours specialization module in Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences, and these experiences will be connected through ongoing critical reflection.

John McGuire, medical biophysics: 

To help students understand the real-world applications of concepts they learn in medical biophysics classes, McGuire will have students reach out to community partners to create cases that center on problems that could be solved using medical biophysics principles. The project is a way to highlight to students the myriad number of careers available to them, as well as build bridges with the community.

This project will also give students the opportunity to create new materials to learn about science and to teach medical biophysics to students and within the community

Kim Solga, English & writing studies:

Performing arts continue to shape our social fabric, and this project crosses disciplines to show innovation in a variety of fields. The project starts with data collection to understand how different groups on campus understand ‘theatre’ and ‘performance’, and then introduces students from different faculties to performance across the disciplines. This includes everything from theatre tools used in police de-escalation training, to performance analysis in political science and business, to playwrighting for medical students.

Expert guests will deliver a range of public lectures in the first term; in the second term, students will be given community placement assignments that allow them to bring their own research expertise to local arts organizations.