By Lauren Sproule, TLS Freelance Writer
As far as Prof. Lisa Meyer is concerned, students don’t benefit from their courses unless they are given the opportunity to synthesize their learning with real-world experience.
Meyer, an instructor in Carleton’s School of Linguistics and Language Studies, teaches a number of communications courses for students of varying disciplines. Her dossier of pupils includes engineering, design and technology students.
“I find it really hard to teach anything that’s not based in a real-world experience,” Meyer says.
For her engineering students, that sort of expertise comes in the form of semester-long group projects geared towards research for various community initiatives.
This is a feature of the course that Meyer’s former student and peer mentor for the summer semester, Aaron Halberstadt, says enriches the overall learning experience.
“(It) adds an extra drive knowing that my work done in the class will not just be for a grade but will go to a client; helping in their project but also representing Carleton,” he says.
This year’s summer term students will have the chance to present proposals for the re-development of Ottawa South’s Brewer Park to City Councillor David Chernushenko. Meyer says the councillor will address the students on the very first day of class to highlight some of the areas the city is planning to improve upon, while suggesting a few ideas his office has in mind. The students will then use that conversation as a jumping off point for their own proposals and will ultimately produce a project infused with their own passions.
Meyer says that students frequently submit project proposals in the context of their personal interests. A number of her students in the past have come up with product ideas for the visually impaired, such as measuring cups and hand-held object identifiers for grocery shopping.
Despite the students gaining what Meyer calls applicable and resume-worthy experience, she admits that creating a curriculum based on experiential learning can be a lot of extra work.
There is an excess of prep work involved with building such a course, according to Meyer, which includes forging connections with community members and inviting them into the classroom. Effort that Meyer says sometimes falls on the deaf ears of students who don’t appreciate the experiential element and can become confused as to the purpose of the course.
Another challenge Meyer identifies is the additional pressure put on the course’s peer mentor, a role filled by Halberstadt in the current semester.
After students submit their proposals for Brewer Park, Halberstadt will need to proof them thoroughly before forwarding them to the city, meaning that it’s not just the student, but Carleton’s reputation on the line, says Meyer.
However, even with these additional challenges, Meyer says the difficulties are well worth it.
“The pros outweigh the cons, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it,” she says.
With this style of learning, Meyer says that students are pushed to communicate and therefore get more out of the course than if it consisted solely of class-based assignments, such as reading and responding to the textbook. As a result, Meyer finds her students to be much more invested in the material, adding that she gets something out of it too.
“I’m always super enthusiastic at the beginning of the semester,” Meyer says in relation to the prospect of embarking on a new series of projects with her students.
But she’s not the only one who’s excited.
Having gone through the course and now returning as the peer mentor, Halberstadt says he is “hoping to be able to not just help the students complete the course but reinforce concepts that are taught, in the hope of creating more eloquent and professional engineers.”