The Faculty of Science is launching new opportunities to help students develop marketable skills in communication, lab management, safety, business, and entrepreneurship. Beginning in 2018, all undergraduate science students at the university have the opportunity to complete an internship that will provide them with real-life experiential learning opportunities. The project is providing value-added services to rapidly growing local industries: wineries, breweries, and greenhouses. We saw Riipen as an ideal partner to help achieve our goal of providing experiential learning to all science undergraduate students, helping to provide such experiences at scale and potentially beyond the local market. We also saw using the Riipen platform as a way to engage more of our local industries in partnerships with the university that have mutual benefit for the community and the university. This expansion of our outreach is a strategic priority for both the Faculty of Science and the university (as articulated in our strategic plan and our strategic mandate agreement, and as such, we saw a partnership with Riipen as a natural fit in a process we are already committed to.
As described below, due to a number of factors, the project could not be considered successful in achieving its original goals. Individual faculty were, for the most part, not yet ready to imagine incorporating experiential learning in the form of micro-experiences in their courses. They saw it as too much work or not fitting with their traditional science curriculums. They also had concerns about the cost to industries of taking on students and the institutional cost if the project were to continue beyond the pilot phase. As a result, no faculty from science took up the offer to use Riipen. One faculty member indicated interest, but was not teaching the course of interest again for over a year. The project was opened up to other faculties and one faculty member from business and one from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (FAHSS) indicated interest. The program in FAHSS is still waiting formal approval so was outside the time frame for the pilot. The business professor went through the whole process of defining and setting up a project, but ultimately decided it was too much for his course and withdrew.
While the project did not achieve its intended goals, a lot was learned about the potential barriers to implementing a project like this at our institution. In that respect, it could be considered that useful lessons were learned. The key challenges were twofold: (1) faculty concern about the workload required to successfully develop and implement micro-experiences with Riipen, and (2) concern about the ongoing costs of the tool, both to potential industry partners and to the institution. There was also some concern from the experiential learning office on campus that micro-experiences, especially if facilitated by a third party in collaboration with faculty directly, would potentially overlap with their work and make placements for co-op and internships harder to achieve.
The broader project team consisted of the Faculty of Science’s extension science team, with representation from the dean’s office, departments, students, TAs/GAs in the courses, and the Office of Open Learning. The faculty team includes science outreach and communication officers who assisted in developing a communication model and engaging stakeholders.
Several industry engagement events were held with partners from the greenhouse, nutraceuticals, and alcohol industries to raise awareness of and discuss possibilities for experiential learning opportunities, including mutual benefits. Faculty travelled to several local industries and met with leaders in these fields. Workshops were also held with faculty members and senior leadership to raise awareness of Riipen. Faculty were invited to discussions and to individual consultations to attempt to determine ways that Riipen could be included in individual courses.
The Faculty of Science has started a curriculum mapping exercise for all undergraduate programs and is using that process to help identify opportunities to involve Riipen and other experiential learning opportunities. There was also a plan to gather student feedback from students, industry, and faculty on their experience with Riipen through short surveys and focus groups.
Experiential Learning Details
As described above, the project was not successful in developing any Riipen experiences in the Faculty of Science as was intended, and the only faculty member (from business) who committed to developing an assignment eventually withdrew. For science disciplines, the notion of micro-experiential learning was largely considered too foreign to their disciplinary pedagogies to be reconciled. This was exacerbated by there being few examples of assignments we could draw on to show some of the disciplines what a project might look like.
The Faculty of Science has subsequently developed two full experiential learning courses providing co-op and internship to science students, and a third is under development in one department just for their students. In all cases, developing a course just for experiential learning relieved faculty of the need to be involved in their own courses, and thus was more palatable to them. Most faculty did not believe that the learning outcomes in most existing courses could be easily supported by experiential learning opportunities. Beyond this, they had real concerns about the fiscal resources required to support the project beyond the pilot and, as a result, saw it as high risk to be involved.
An additional challenge was that policy changes, new procedures, and lack of IT capacity during the implementation of our new ERP system made it impossible to integrate Riipen into the learning management system (LMS) or provide integrated sign-on. Beyond this, we experienced no technical issues with Riipen itself.
From a support perspective, pedagogical support required for effectively developing assignments mapped to the learning outcomes and curriculums of the faculty courses was significant. Developing these at scale would take considerable resources from already stretched pedagogical support on campus. Riipen does provide support to faculty to help them identify projects, but these still require significant instructional design to implement properly and most faculty were not willing to invest that time, particularly if the project was a pilot and may not be available long-term.
As Riipen was not used in any classes during the sandbox trial, there is no student data available. Similarly, for faculty, as no one actually chose to adopt the tool, no data is available. However, instructors did share that they felt the system was too much work for them, and many found both the concept of experiential learning and including micro-projects in their courses unfamiliar and challenging. They struggled to see the value for their students as a trade-off in lost time learning in more traditional ways.
This may be a disciplinary challenge, with most science instructors having little exposure to these ideas in their own careers as students, and different types of experiential learning already embedded in their programming (e.g., labs, field trips, research) that are seen as more valuable than projects based in industry.
Despite the challenges, the Faculty of Science hopes to undertake a longer trial and has received additional funding to do so. Additional industry engagement sessions have been planned to help inform industry partners about the potential, and additional workshops and one-on-one support are being offered to faculty who may be interested. A full privacy impact and risk assessment will need to be undertaken to continue, and it is possible that IT resources will be available to integrate Riipen with other systems, including the LMS. Additionally, the funding will allow for more disciplines to be exposed to Riipen, and there may be more interest from some of those areas.
- It is easy to underestimate how conceptually challenging micro-experiences may be for some disciplines. Those who are not familiar with the notion of experiential learning as it is more broadly understood may struggle to see value in the Riipen process, especially in comparison to the amount of work they perceive it will take to set up and run the projects.
- Setting up Riipen experiences and successfully getting them through to students actually completing them takes much longer than anticipated, and requires much more instructional design, coaching, and support than was anticipated. Scaling up this approach would be a significant challenge in our estimation, although once running, the process should take less maintenance in subsequent cycles.