Experiential learning key in Canadian universities

Associate editor — features

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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TORONTO, Canada — It's a phrase Jamaican guidance counsellors have been hearing often on their eight-school tour of Ontario and New Brunswick this week — experiential learning.

Recruiting and teaching staff from both large and small colleges and universities use it when bragging about the practical, hands-on approaches to learning to which their students are exposed across various disciplines at the respective institutions.

At the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, for example, the climactic testing and product development research facility, which has been featured in commercials, documentaries and movies by National Geographic, Warner Brothers, Toyota, and BMW, to name a few, is a critical part of the automotive engineering programme in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

“We take science off the shelves and prove it in real concepts to bring it to life,” director of the Automotive Centre of Excellence John Komar said. “We don't leave science in the library; we bring it to the market.”

The experiential learning concept came to life for the counsellors while at Ryerson University's Department of Physics. There, lecturer Graham Pearson not only walked them through the steps to wire a circuit board to produce light, sound, and wave energy, but gave them the tools to do it.

They were each given a container with supplies — light-emitting diodes (LEDs), capacitors, resistors, sensors, batteries, mini speakers — and followed Pearson's instructions regarding the letter-number combinations of the board.

Soon, they had a lit LED.

Then they did a flashing LED.

Next, they added the speakers with pre-recorded sound.

Last, they put the sensor in and noticed how it responded to the movement of their hands or other objects passing over it.

“It shows you how simple, interesting and rewarding physics can be,” said Claudia Willie of Montego Bay High School.

“I didn't do physics at school, but (Pearson) made it so practical and simple that I was quite interested,” Glenmuir High School's Althea Francis told the Jamaica Observer.

“It was hands-on experience, not just learning theory. That's what today's young people need: experiential learning, not just theoretical learning.”

The same held true for 17-year-old Isabelle Miller who is on a personal fact-finding mission with the guidance counsellors.

“I'm not a huge science person, but he made me want to learn the subject, which is rare for me, because I'm not a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) student. I think doing projects like that is good because not many students know for sure what they want to do, and it will help with those who struggle in that kind of way,” she reported.

Added Andria Strong-Moses: “The activity made physics come alive for me, for sure. It showed how, from the simple to the concrete, how we can apply physics in our everyday lives so that there is no fear.”

Strong-Moses, Willie, and Francis are part of a group of counsellors from Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands who are visiting Canadian institutions of higher learning in order to be better able to inform their students who seek opportunities to study abroad. The others are Beth Schmidgall, Richine Bethell and Paula Gordon Grant.

In addition to UOIT and Ryerson, the campuses on their itinerary are Durham College (which shares a campus with UOIT), Trent University, New Brunswick Community College, University of New Brunswick (UNB), St Thomas University (which shares space with UNB), and New Brunswick College of Craft and Design.




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