Experiential learning is a uniquely valuable component of Mount Allison’s learning process. Experiential learning is an active educational experience through which students learn by doing as opposed to learning through a lectern, says Dr. Karen Grant, Mt. A’s provost and vice-president, academic and research.
“Experiential learning involves […] the acquisition of specific skills, experimentation, risk-taking, reflection, the building of relationships and much more,” wrote Grant in a discussion paper outlining what experiential learning is and how it can be improved on campus in the coming years. Grant also wrote, “[Experiential learning] can lead to innovation through the application of knowledge. It can involve creation – of concepts, ideas, things and relationship.”
Grant said that research has shown that people are generally more likely to learn if they are actively involved in their learning. “Sometimes you get into an experience and it changes your life,” said Grant.
Another key component of experiential learning is skills development. “We equip students with all sorts of skills in a curriculum where learning allows students and faculty to be intentional about what has been learned,” said Grant.
Grant said she sees experiential learning as both education for education’s sake but also as skill-development.
Experiential learning happens in multiple facets of the Mt. A experience in terms of research grants, internships, service learning and field trips.
One of the few internships offered at Mt. A is the Mansbridge Summit Internship, which is offered through the university advancement offices. Third-year student Willa McCaffrey-Noviss said “The Mansbridge Summit is essentially my brain child.” McCaffrey-Noviss was hired as the summit intern to create a theme and develop the creative marketing for the summit.
The summit is described by Peter Mansbridge as “the chance to ask questions and address issues that are vital to Canada’s future – in this case, social media mobilising revolutionary ideas,” on the summit’s website.
McCaffrey-Noviss said that the theme of the summit this year is about “encouraging students to talk about how social media is influencing their lives.” There will be speakers from Facebook, Twitter and other social media and research groups who use social media to bridge knowledge gaps through social media.
McCaffrey-Noviss said one of the most valuable parts of her job is making connections with the people she works with. McCaffrey-Noviss also said being able to ask for feedback with her coworkers has also been highly valuable.
“Internships provide students with workplace-integrated learning opportunities,” wrote Grant. “Students have the opportunity to gain valuable experience in an organization, learning its culture [and] developing significant relationships.”
Grant’s discussion paper outlines future goals for internships. “Internships opportunities should be increased substantially university-wide. In addition, a comprehensive program to support student interns should be establish,” wrote Grant.
McCaffrey-Noviss said having experiential learning in the way of an internship is much more rewarding than many other kinds of student employment. “I worked at a cineplex last summer, this is the first time I could really see what I could do.”
Student research grants
Mt. A currently offers roughly 45 research grants to third-year students. This summer, fourth-year sociology student Janelle Levesque conducted her independent summer research on abortion politics and discourse in N.B.
“With all of the political change that has been brought to the forefront I thought it was a very relevant and compelling topic to look into,” said Levesque. “I ended up finding out that not that much has changed with the polarising nature of this debate. [Abortion] is more an ethical debate than a human right. It is a deeply gendered issue.”
Levesque says she was able to pull several different subject areas into her research given the interdisciplinary nature of the topic, as is sociology’s wont.
Levesque began her research process with a qualitative content analysis which involved a review of both a pro-life and pro-choice organization and the platforms displayed on each group’s website. She then moved on to a literature review and, later, an interview process.
“I learned most from the interviews; being able to actually speak with people and develop a rapport with participants added a lot of depth and substance to my research data,” said Levesque. “The fact that it was an interactive process is definitely what made the [research] experience that much more enriching.”
Levesque said that the research grant provided her with a means to adapt the class-based skills she had acquired into doing tangible work. That said, Levesque said this was only partially sufficient knowledge and she “really just had to learn from [her] own mistakes.”
Grant outlined how Mt. A could further experiential learning through increased opportunity for student research grants. “Mount Allison’s experience in providing students with research opportunities should be increased substantially […] and particular efforts should be directed at not only increasing the number, but also the range of research opportunities.”
Marcus Rogers and Patrick Scanlan, both fourth-year commerce students, are a part of Dr. Nauman Farooqi’s New Venture Creations class, which is better known on campus as the entrepreneurship class. Rogers said the goal of the class at its core is to provide experiential learning through entrepreneurship.
Scanlan said students are encouraged to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and work toward sustainable projects. “Farooqi doesn’t let us call it a class; it is ‘company meetings,’” said Rogers.
The entire class comes together as one group to create an entrepreneurial project. This year’s class has chosen to undertake a clothing company which specialises in stylised sweatpants. The students received a $5,000 small business loan to create Broken Bridge Apparel—now a legal company. Each student is also an equal shareholder and has invested their own money.
Rogers said this class works as an experience of the real world. “There’s no right answer; there’s a better answer […] we can actually apply the theories and models we’ve learned in class,” said Rogers.
Rogers said the main difference between this class and others is that they never have all the information whereas in class they generally would.
“The class is experiential learning, where we’ve dealt with all of these things that are very real world… we can tell a business we want to work for in the future of this experience and can be taken seriously,” said Scanlan of the benefits of this class and experiential learning.
The Flying Bean Cafe was a creation of the new venture creations class who proceeded to sell it to the university.
Many students from this class have plans to continue their project through a special topics class within the commerce department.