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Memorial educator shares her observations on student engagement

by: MUN

Dr. Lily Walker

Dr. Lilly Walker, Department of Psychology and former Dean of Student Affairs and Services, has found students’ learning is enhanced when experiential learning strategies are incorporated into the structure of the class.   Her fourth year psychology course, 4650 (Special Topics in Abnormal Psychology),  has been designed to support Memorial’s strategy for teaching and learning by incorporating engaging, experiential exponents into the  design of the course. Partnering with Career Development and Experiential Learning and Street Reach, students are involved in the Community Service Learning Day, which allows them to apply the information learned in the classroom as they expand their awareness of the realities of poverty, homelessness and mental illness.

You can read more extensively about the impact of experiential learning on students’ learning by reading Dr. Walker’s reflection about her own learning and that of her students on the Teaching and Learning website.

Years ago, as a university student, I valued the courses that included practicum placements as a provocative source of learning.  The experiences in those environments remained etched forever in my memory.  So when I commenced my teaching career at Brandon University  (eons ago), I knew that all my courses needed to include opportunities for applying the concepts that were core to the course curriculum.  I knew and understood the value of integrating classroom learning with real life experiences and wanted my students to experience the meaningful, lifelong learning that occurs in situations where students are able to apply their learning.  Students transform who they are, what they believe, and what they know when they engage in the process of doing and using the concepts and information learned in class.  This learning remains with you long after the moments in the classroom fade.

 During my tenure as Dean of Student Affairs and Services, I appreciated the efforts of student services professionals to reach out to faculty in partnership as a means of enhancing students’ learning experience.  Service learning which bridges classroom knowledge with community placements provides a unique venue for enriching students’ learning while creating community partnerships.  With the Student Service value of keeping the student at the centre of the learning experience and their commitment to enriching the learning that students experience, they initiated efforts to provide Memorial students with both out of class and in class reflective learning experiences.

When I returned to the classroom in the Fall of 2011, as a professor in psychology, I designed my course learning objectives to support Memorial University’s new strategy for teaching and learning.  One of my first priorities was to link Career Development and Experiential Learning in order to explore community placements that would add to the learning of the fourth year psychology students in 4650 (Special Topics in Abnormal Psychology).  In this course students learn about addictions and finding community opportunities for them to learn first hand the impact of addictions on people’s lives and the social and economic issues related to addictions was important.  

With Penny Cofield’s assistance I was able to link with community agencies who could provide service learning opportunities for my students.  For all of my students, involvement in these practicum placements was a novel experience.  High achieving and highly motivated, most of these students had volunteered but had never been involved in a course in which service involvement, reflection and integrating academic and personal learning were core components.   These experiences stretched the students.  Sometimes they were uncomfortable.  Other times they were excited.  Overall, they learned not just about the connection between addictions, poverty, mental illness, homelessness, and life choices, they learned about themselves.

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