Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Experiential Learning in First Year Program

2016 Symposium on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in and across Disciplines, Banff AB (Abstract)


From Learning Objectives to Experiences:  Community-Engaged Learning Across Disciplines

Christine D’Onofrio and Kathryn Grafton

What is revealed about student learning when conventional teaching boundaries are expanded from within to across disciplines, from theory to praxis, and from classroom to community? In this presentation, we share our experience designing a cross-disciplinary, community-based learning unit for 100 students in UBC’s Coordinated Arts Program (CAP), a multidisciplinary cohort program for first-year students. We focus on learning objectives: how we developed objectives that met both the program’s outcomes and the disciplinary needs of two courses, how we designed activities and assignments to meet these objectives, and how students’ experiences aligned with, and departed from, our pedagogical aims.

Our work on community-engaged learning is located in the curricular context of CAP, which brings together courses into broad research streams, such as “Global Citizens” and “Law and Society.” CAP is a learning community, a group of students taking connected courses (e.g., Evenbeck and Ross 214). These communities foster integrative learning: multi-modal pedagogy that encourages students to think critically across contextual boundaries through diverse practices (e.g., Huber, Hutchings, and Gale 4), including community-engaged learning. While there is scholarship on community learning in higher education (e.g., Bringle and Hatcher), there is a gap in published research on community-engaged pedagogy for learning communities as well as cross-course, community-learning initiatives.

Our initiative is the first to apply CAP’s multidisciplinarity to community learning: we designed the unit for the Media Studies stream, which includes our courses, Academic Writing/English and Visual Arts. With colleagues, we designed the 2015/16 community-learning experience in partnership with the New Media Gallery (New Westminster). Students and faculty visited the exhibition, 5600K: Temperature of White, featuring contemporary artworks on the physiology of light, accompanied by a curatorial lecture. Students then examined this experience through two disciplinary lenses. For Academic Writing, students summarized a scholarly article, using the exhibit to illustrate and complicate how the theory works in practice. This summary addressed a learning objective to synthesize and take a persuasive position in a scholarly argument. For Visual Arts, students executed two appropriated artworks, visually responding to their experience with the exhibit. This assignment addressed the objective of poiesis, the transfer of intuition to intellect. Students also responded to critical reflection questions before and after the unit. These reflections helped students to “make meaning of experience” (Bringle & Hatcher), self-assess their engagement with praxis—unifying theory and action—, and identify how the two disciplines informed their research projects.

We present how our program and course objectives overlap and diverge, the challenges we faced with our initial pilot and how we revised the curriculum accordingly. We then engage the audience in questions of cross-disciplinarity by asking them respond to an interactive experience from their own disciplinary positions and compare responses. We show works from the exhibition, our assignments, and a summary of student reflections. We highlight patterns of student experiences in relation to our learning objectives, particularly the notable influence of a learning community on community-engaged learning. More broadly, we reflect on the ways that community learning across disciplines contributes to Booth’s vision of “a re-imagined higher education that is multi-dimensional, outward facing and grounded in the complexity and plurality of meanings that characterize contemporary life” (53).


Works Cited

Booth, Alan. “‘Wide-awake Learning’: Integrative Learning and Humanities Education.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 10.1 (2011): 47-65. Web.

Bringle, R., and J. Hatcher. “A Service Learning Curriculum for Faculty.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 1(1995): 112-122.

Evenbeck, Scott E., and Frank E. Ross. “Transforming the First Year Experience through Learning Communities.” Institutional Transformation to Engage a Diverse Student Body. Ed. Liz Thomas and Malcolm Tight. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2011. 213-223.

Huber, Mary Taylor, Pat Hutchings, and Richard Gale. “Integrative Learning for Liberal Education.” Peer Review 7.4 (2005): 4-7. Web.

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