Students ask for more participatory learning options

Photo by Kha Vo
Photo by Kha Vo

Some students in Ontario today aren’t seeing the same value in the conventional lecture setting anymore.

Instead, they are seeing the value outside of the classroom.

In a recent survey released by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), almost half of the 9,000 students polled had some experience with a high-impact

learning practice such as a co-op placement during their undergrad. 57 per cent of students surveyed wanted to see more “active” and “participatory” classes offered at their universities.

In addition, the report also signaled a change for universities to implement more teaching-focused faculty for students.

“[The survey] affirms how some Ontario universities have done some really cool things when it comes to teaching, learning and placements, but of note — and this is sort of the underline — is that there is a lot of room to grow,” explained Amir Eftekarpour, the president of OUSA and vice-president: external at the Western University Students’ Council.

The trend of high-impact learning practices and active classrooms is something that OUSA and the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) are advocating for on the provincial level. In particular, COU released a report on March 26 in support of more co-op and work placements at Ontario universities.

However, this is not a plea for universities to drastically change their course offerings. What Eftekarpour is hoping to see is a “best of both worlds” scenario where placements can provide a student with the opportunity to take their classroom learning into the workforce during their studies.

“The university for years was a place for thought and that critical inquiry — and that is still incredibly important— but what we are seeing is that the economy is becoming more of a service economy,” said Eftekarpour. “A lot of students do need to get some tangible experience so they can transition into their careers.”

OUSA has been in talks with the ministry of training, colleges and universities about some of these practices, but Eftekarpour said the biggest challenge so far has been the provincial budget.

“We keep hearing everywhere, on all issues, there isn’t a whole lot of money in the money pot,” he said. “We hope the province sees the long-term benefits of this short investment.”

According to Bonnie M. Patterson, the president and CEO of COU, this call for more co-op and work placements isn’t exclusive to business and science programs. She noted that many arts, humanities and social sciences programs are beginning to adopt these practices, but the need for all disciplines continues to grow.

Sunny Trochaniak, a recent BBA graduate from Wilfrid Laurier University, completed three co-op terms during his undergraduate degree and believed that he wouldn’t be in the spot he is now without it.

“If I didn’t have co-op I would be less than satisfied in terms of getting the value out of the money [for my degree],” he said. “Everyone should have a realistic chance to be in co-op.”

Moving forward, Patterson said the emphasis shouldn’t just be placed on the university sector since the programs also depend on the businesses and organizations that hire these students. She believes that students should be paid if the work is full-time and not specifically for course credit.

“We’ve grown so much in university student populations that we need a similar growth in the receptor capacity in businesses and community organizations to ensure that these students get these type of placements,” said Patterson, adding that COU has been in discussions with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce about this.

Currently, only a handful of universities in Ontario offer co-op programs, whereas some larger universities such as Western do not.

“I think there is an effort in some places [for co-op programs], some more than others, but I will say it seems to be everywhere is a growing conscious of the need to address that,” said Eftekarpour.

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