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Blog 141

Blog 141

Celebrating Experiential Education at York: An overview of the 2020 Experiential Education Symposium

By Kathleen Winningham & Lisa Endersby

Recently a group of talented and engaged students gathered to celebrate their experiential education achievements at the second annual Experiential Education (EE) Symposium.  This multi-disciplinary event was held over two days in the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Building on January 21 and 22, 2020.

The University Academic Plan identifies three priority areas: (i) enhancing teaching and learning, (ii) enriching the student experience and (iii) building community and extending our global reach ( Across each of these broad priority areas, experiential education is a vehicle to facilitate learning.  Therefore, each year the event, sponsored by The Office of the Associate Vice-President Teaching and Learning and York University Libraries, aims to showcase experiential education and showcases the achievements of students and faculty who have participated in EE.

Following a successful inaugural event in 2019, this year’s program began with opening remarks from York staff, including President Dr. Rhonda Lenton, AVP Teaching and Learning Dr. Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, and Dean of Libraries Joy Kirchner. The event also included a  panel presentation with representation of both students and faculty, tables hosted by Learning Commons partners, and a marketplace-like environment where students presented their diverse projects in the form of poster sessions.  A total of thirty-two students representing almost all the Faculties and Glendon College presented posters either individually or in groups detailing their EE experiences.

The EE Symposium panel discussion was once again an event highlight. What was perhaps most striking about this year’s panel was the commentary that extended far beyond any pedagogical or practical considerations related to integrating EE into courses or engaging in EE activities. The four panelists, two students and two faculty members, eloquently emphasized that experiential education is far more than an opportunity to develop new skills or try out a new role. The overarching theme of the panelists’ comments was, in fact, a validation of the hard work that may come with designing, facilitating, and assessing an EE activity through the benefits of these learning experiences that reach far beyond learning outcomes or letter grades.

The pedagogical benefits of EE were clear, particularly through the comments of our faculty panelists who discussed the value of guiding students through a deeper, intentional, and more realistic or authentic exploration of course concepts, all while helping them to see what these concepts or skills might look like in practice. Our student panelists, however, spoke equally highly of the profound personal benefits of experiential education, noting more than once that the opportunity to practice, to try, and perhaps at times even to fail safely helped to shape a positive view of themselves and a lasting motivation to continue seeking out and taking on new challenges in their chosen future pathways. Experiential education, for our panelists, is equally pedagogical and personal. We are grateful to Mavoy Bertram (Faculty of Health), Véronique Tomaszweski (Glendon College), Diana Pik (Faculty of Science alum), and Esha Bhardwaj (Faculty of Education) for their authenticity, engagement, and valuable insights as our EE Symposium panelists.

Our student poster presenters also offered incredible authenticity, engagement, and insights during the Symposium, demonstrating a wide-ranging collection of experiences and reflections in 21 unique poster displays. Representing almost every Faculty at York, the students’ posters highlighted the invaluable opportunity to experience what may be learned through a textbook or lecture in a new, immersive environment. Seeing this knowledge ‘come to life’ and beginning to make important connections between these ideas and their own professional goals was a central focus of many conversations with our poster presenters, several of whom shared enthusiastic testimonials for embarking on what may seem like a daunting undertaking that, yet, pays off in remarkable ways.

Creating posters for the Symposium offered students the chance to reflect even further on these experiences in the field, in the workplace, and even in the classroom as opportunities to answer the ‘so what?’ and “now what?’ questions that can seem unattainable when we are focused on the ‘what?’ of moving through a syllabus or an academic term. These students shared that their knowledge and skills were strengthened not just by practice in context, but through a deeper understanding of how these concepts and skills might connect to each other, to other, future experiences, and to their professional or personal passions. It was especially inspiring to hear from so many students that EE is far more than just another activity or experience; it truly is an opportunity to keep the student at the centre of our pedagogical planning and helping them to develop the tools to be reflective, engaged students, scholars, practitioners, and people.

More information about the 2020 EE Symposium can be found on the event website: tuned for more information about our next event in January 2021!

About the Authors

Kathleen Winningham BSC., M.A. Ed., has over 30 years’ experience in the field of experiential education in the post-secondary sector both at the university and community college level.  Currently the Director of the YU Experience Hub at York University, she is responsible for advancing the university’s pan-university curricular experiential education strategy.  This portfolio includes:  cultivating existing and potential experiential education opportunities and partnerships; representing the university on issues pertaining to experiential education; establishing policy, protocols and procedures to ensure high quality and effective delivery of experiential education programming; and promoting and enhancing the value of York’s experiential education programming.

Lisa Endersby, BSC, MEd, currently services as an Educational Developer in the Teaching Commons at York University. Her work in experiential education includes research & scholarship, workshop facilitation, and individual consultations designed to support all aspects of engaging in experiential education as an opportunity for meaningful pedagogy and deeper learning. In addition, Lisa supports York faculty in engaging in reflective practice through a variety of classroom observation programs designed to encourage the integration of self, peer, student perspectives into ongoing teaching practices. Her professional background includes over 10 years in higher education with roles ranging from career services, community service learning, student leadership development, and new student orientation.