Author Archives: kari grain

Update #9: December 2019

Greetings Everyone,

I hope this fall semester has been a good one for you. As this project nears completion, and in alignment with the tenets of community engaged research, I am eager to share with you the project report and recommendations to which you have all contributed valuable time and expertise. Many of you are invested in making positive (individual and systemic) changes to experiential education at UBC and I hope this project will represent some movement in that direction.

A number of you have been asking about the report, and once you receive it, I hope it will contribute to your own efforts for enhanced support in your faculties and offices. Our goal has been to share at least something with you by the holidays, and while I cannot send out the report today, I can share the following information:

  • The report/recommendations document was approved by the project advisory committee (Kim Kiloh, Susan Grossman, Jeff Miller, and Gillian Gerhard) in October;
  • Simon Bates (AVP Teaching and Learning) has read the report and noted that it contains similar findings and recommendations to those of the Interdisciplinary Education Project. This is leading to more conversations and potential collaboration with that project.
  • Findings and recommendations were presented (in part) to Senate Teaching and Learning Committee in late October.
  • Simon Bates will be sharing out the report and recommendations with you in the near future. At that time, I will also be able to share the report with anyone who is interested.

In the meantime, colleagues and I in the CTLT, CCEL, and CSI&C offices are continuing our work to build resources and presentations that respond to the needs identified in the study. I will touch base again in the new year for one more update and to share how the work will be carried forward. As always, feel free to connect with me if you have questions or comments (by email or @experientialubc on Twitter).

I developed the visual above to show the recommended flow of action in making sustainable changes to some of the challenges that have been highlighted in this study. This visual is not a hierarchy of importance but rather a suggested flow of action, with the recognition that to achieve the worthy recommendations on the bottom half, we first need to have a collaboratively developed vision that is championed by high level leadership. The recommendations are expanded upon in detail in the report that Simon will be sharing in the coming weeks.

Wishing all of you a joyful and restful holiday season!

Update #8: September 2019

Good Morning, friends and colleagues in the UBC experiential education community. Happy September!

Experiential education is often framed as “learning by doing” – an oversimplification which, by all accounts, does a disservice to the labour and thoughtfulness that often give it life. As we wrap up summer and transition into a phase of institutional activity and ‘productivity,’ this New York Times article got me thinking about the importance of summer, which, for some lucky people, involves a period of the NOT-doing. In the article titled “You are doing something important when you are not doing anything,” author, Bonnie Tsui, argues that this “fallow time” is invisible labour that allows us to generate ideas and reach what Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson calls the “absorb state.” This excerpt gets at the heart of Tsui’s argument:

I’m not talking about boredom, though that is part of the broader picture of maintaining creativity. I’m talking about an active refueling that can seem at odds with our fetishization of productivity. Reading a book, visiting a museum, wandering out to people-watch at the park. Though we purport to value artists and romanticize their muses, the aforementioned activities aren’t often recognized as work. (Tsui, 2019)

In the context of our work, this not-doing (or the not-doing-of-typical-productivity) can be a pivotal component of experiential education – a transformative means of learning through reflection and rest, and giving ourselves time to ponder connections between ideas and realities, or between what we’ve done and what we hope to do. (Sidebar: This restful reflection on what we’ve done is part of the reason that experiential education is so hard to evaluate in the short term. Anecdotally, most people I talk to about their transformative experiential education memories, convey that they didn’t realize how important or transformative it was until years later). This “fallow time”, a privilege to be sure, can be invigorating whether you’re staff, faculty, student, or community/workplace partner. Nonetheless, these “quietly dormant moments” can imbue the actual doing with far more creativity, meaning, and relationality than if we had never paused to reflect, read, play, and be present with ourselves and others. Perhaps this is why reflection is such an important aspect of experiential education for scholars like Kolb and Dewey. I wonder if “learning by being” is a more apt shorthand for such an endeavour.

This is, by now, a long-winded way of saying that I hope that this past summer you have had at least a taste of rest, reflection, and reconnection – of learning by being. As we embark on the fall semester, I wanted to share a few updates on this project and showcase a few events and resources related to experiential education:

  • Project Update: Attached is a visual that illustrates a broader picture of this project I have been a part of, which has eventual goal of contributing to recommendations for enhanced support of experiential education at UBC Vancouver. Having conducted a research project, member-checked the findings, and refined action themes, we are now conducting open roundtable focus group conversations. The goal of these consultative conversations is to collaboratively develop actionable recommendations that can be submitted to UBC leadership tables such as Senate Teaching and Learning Committee. Our hope is that such recommendations will honour the suggestions and innovative ideas that so many of you have shared over the course of this project, and contribute to enhanced support (and minimized barriers) for experiential education at UBC. Stay tuned for more faculty- and student-specific focus group conversations in late September, and a larger dialogue event before winter holidays.
  • Funding Opportunities:
  • New UBC Resources and Publications:
  • News and Events:

If you’d like more regular updates on experiential education, you can also find me on Twitter @experientialubc. My role as Analyst, Experiential Learning, will be wrapping up in the new year (March 2020), so the next steps of this project will be dispersed and passed along to the capable hands of colleagues in the CCEL, CSI&C, and the CTLT (many of whom have been a pivotal part of this work before I arrived and who will continue it after I leave). If you would like to be connected with these colleagues, please let me know and I will initiate introductions.

Thank you once again for your many contributions to the enhancement of experiential education at UBC and beyond. I continue to appreciate and learn from the diverse expertise you bring to this work.



Update #7: May 2019

*The photo above was taken during UBC Okanagan’s Experience Learning Conference on May 7th. During one session, we learned about native Okanagan plant species with botanist, Dr. Terry McIntosh. 

I hope this update finds you well and enjoying the spring weather. It has been a number of months since my last update to UBC’s Experiential Learning community, and there is much to share!

On May 8th, 2019 at UBC Okanagan’s Experience Learning Conference, UBC President Santa Ono conveyed a passionate message about the importance of experiential learning: In our current geopolitical climate, as walls are built and protectionist policies are enacted, experiential learning offers a bridge and an outward facing connection. I heard this as a broader statement about experiential learning in post-secondary institutions: It represents not only an opportunity to teach students through transformative pedagogies, but it also positions educational institutions- and the people who embody them – as arbiters of relationships across (both local and international) borders. With such a charge comes tremendous responsibility to think deeply about the ways that experiential pedagogies are conceived, wielded, and supported at UBC. This research project, along with others across UBC, is one way for us to generate insights and enhance our work in light of that responsibility.

With Ono’s message in mind, below are a few updates. Please feel free to get in touch with me at any time, and thanks again for your continued passion and engagement around this topic.

Research Update: Spring 2019 has been focused on member checking data themes, writing up research findings, and sharing back the research with various pockets of the UBC Experiential Learning community. If you have been a part of that process, thank you for your continued time and participation. Below is a brief overview of a recent event we facilitated, which was designed to take the next steps in refining, disseminating, and taking action on this research.

A Dialogue on Experiential Learning at UBC Vancouver: On April 29th, 2019, a cross-unit team from the CTLT, CCEL, and CSI&C facilitated a half-day dialogue hosted by Simon Bates and Janet Teasdale with fifty members of UBC’s experiential learning community, which included associate deans, faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and staff – many of whom were participants in the study. The aims of this event were to member check selected challenge themes from my research project, refine priority areas for strategic action, and support the development of an interdisciplinary and cross-unit community of experiential learning leaders at UBC.

Key challenge areas that were discussed and refined included:

  • Time: The complexity and intensity of experiential learning practices take time. The additional time and work of experiential learning is unevenly valued and supported across the university.
  • Risk and Responsibility: There is an inherent level of risk and responsibility involved with embedding experiential learning in courses/programs. This level of risk and responsibility impacts who does and sustains the work of experiential learning in courses/programs.
  • Accessibility: Students from diverse backgrounds experience unequal levels of access to experiential learning opportunities.
  • Relationships and Reciprocity: There is an inherent level of complexity involved with building and sustaining relationships with communities and organizations.
  • What counts and to whom?: There are significant limitations to current university practices that attempt to measure the value, quantity, quality, and impact of experiential learning programs/courses.

Additional topics that arose through the dialogue included:

  • Definition and branding: How does UBC define experiential learning and is there some value in generating a common institution-wide definition, principles, or understanding? (this conversation revealed significant disagreement)
  • Rewarding the work: How can UBC systems better reward/support those who do the additional labour of experiential learning (faculty, staff, students, and community/workplace partners)
  • Collaboration and Communication: How can UBC support cross-pollination and enhanced communication between units and faculties?

Associate Provost, Teaching and Learning, Simon Bates, closed the Dialogue event with an invitation for us to reconvene in Fall 2019 in order to generate recommendations and action items – with the possibility of those recommendations being heard and taken up by Senate Teaching and Learning Committee. For my part, in the coming year of this project, I aim to build capacity across units to support EL, develop resources for faculty and staff, and generate additional collaborations to respond to the data gleaned from the research.

UBC Okanagan’s Experience Learning Conference (May 2019)

UBC Okanagan, like UBC Vancouver, has been working diligently to strengthen its support of experiential learning. Last week I had the pleasure of attending their conference as an invited panelist for the opening plenary. The conference was welcoming, well-organized, and intimate. My favourite component (in the true spirit of experiential learning) was a half-day of organized experiential activities around campus. I participated in a nature walk to learn about Okanagan plant species with botanist, Dr. Terry McIntosh (see photo above). I also attended a 3D printing class in UBCO’s Makerspace, hosted by Engineering Instructor, Dr. Sabine Weyand. The conference ended with a one-hour address from UBC President, Santa Ono.

Graduate Job Opportunities in Experiential Learning:

Four specialized graduate job opportunities are available in the realm of experiential learning (Contact Dr. Kerry Greer for more info:

  • 3 x Graduate Teaching Assistant positions with the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Community Engaged Learning. These GTAs will focus on building graduate students’ understanding and practice of community engaged learning.
  • 1 x Graduate Research Assistant position with the Department of Sociology. This GRA will evaluate the expansion of experiential learning in both the Coordinated Arts Program / Vantage College, and within Sociology.

Upcoming Events at UBC Vancouver:

  • Spring Institute May 21-24 (There are several events focused on forms of experiential learning, community engagement, and active pedagogies)
  • Congress 2019 June 1-5 (I will be presenting at four sessions during Congress – all in relation to this project)
  • Pedagogy Hub (During Congress): Several public sessions focused on teaching and learning (no need to register for Congress to attend these sessions)

Update #6: February 2019

Greetings to all of you – I hope that you’ve had a great start to 2019 so far. Below is an update on the research project, along with some upcoming events and resources. As always, feel free to explore for more resources – and contact me any time for a coffee or conversation.

*FYI I was digging through the UBC archives for historical examples of experiential learning. In case you’re interested, I’ve included a couple of photos (1994 archaeology field school, and 1940 forestry field trip).

All of the data for my research project on experiential learning has been collected and I am in the analysis phase. On January 24, I shared a presentation with the Community Engaged Scholars group. The purpose of my presentation was to talk about the project itself, share some of the resources I’ve developed (via the blogsite) and share / member check some of the emergent findings from the study. Thank you to those of you who were able to provide feedback as we move forward (and if you weren’t there, I am happy to visit your units / offices to do something similar).

The next steps of this project are in formation, but below are a few important dates below:

  1. On Thursday, March 21, 2019: I’ll be doing a Brown Bag Presentation (USB 1178) 12-1pm. Please feel free to come by and learn about the findings and engage in dialogue about next steps.
  2. April 2019: Target date for a draft of the project report
  3. May 2019: We plan to hold a UBC half-day summit-like event with members of the UBC-Vancouver Experiential Learning community. Our aim is to share back findings with some of the people who generously participated in this project, and to generate dialogue and recommendations for moving forward. We also aim to invite some UBC leadership to this event to engage in generative conversation about future directions of experiential learning at UBC. (Date TBA – will keep you posted!)
  4. May 2019: UBC-Okanagan Celebrate Learning Week (with a focus on Experiential Learning): We encourage you to attend if you are interested. I will likely be doing a presentation on this experiential learning project and insights we have generated throughout.
  5. June 1-5: Congress 2019 will be hosted at UBC this year. I, in collaboration with various experiential learning leaders at UBC, will be presenting on a variety of related topics, including:
    1. Experiential learning from diverse stakeholder perspectives (panel)
    2. Experiential learning: What lies beyond the “comfort zone” (paper presentation with Dr. Alison Taylor)
    3. Experiential learning across the humanities (panel presentation with Dr. Tara Mayer, Dr. Kerry Greer, and others)
  6. More to come! In the spirit of sharing back this research with the community who helped to inform it (You!), I would be happy to come and present within your units or faculties if you think it would be helpful. Please contact me any time.

Other news:

  • Funding Still Available: The Centre for Community Engaged Learning still has two pools of funds available in the following areas:
    • BC Rural Community Engaged Learning Fund
    • Community Engagement Course Development
  • I recently published an article in the Journal of Experiential Education with seven Ugandan participant-researchers who I worked with for my doctoral research. It underlines the importance of relationships in International Service-Learning partnerships, and also examines the tensions and power relations involved in the co-publication process with community partners.

Thank you again for your engagement and commitment to experiential learning at UBC. Looking forward to continued conversations in Spring 2019!


Update #5: December 14, 2018

Holidays are nearly upon us and it is time to share another project update before the New Year. Below are some highlights related to this project. Thank you for your many contributions to experiential education in 2018 and wishing all of you a beautiful holiday season!

  • RESEARCH PROJECT UPDATE: Data collection for the institutional case study is nearly complete and the findings are rich with insights, trends, and complexities. In January I’ll begin to write up a synthesis of results and I’ll be sure to share it with all of you. In total, the study includes:
    • 18 interviews with faculty members from nearly every faculty at UBC
    • 7 focus groups with a total of 46 staff and faculty experts
    • 60 surveys from UBC faculty members who are heavily involved in experiential education
  • EVENTS: 2019 will be a year for synthesizing the research, disseminating findings with (and beyond) our UBC community, and developing resources that address some of the gaps shown in the research. Although exact dates are not yet confirmed, I’d like to share some presentations that are likely to happen:
    • 26, 2019: Community Engaged Scholars’ (CES) Group Presentation:
      • I’ll be sharing preliminary study findings with the Community Engaged Scholars Group, which is organized by Kat Cureton in the Community Engagement Office.
    • March 2019: PhD Defense:
      • I’ll be defending my PhD dissertation on critical approaches to service-learning and global engagement work! (Although this is separate from the experiential education project, my doctoral research is in a specific area of the field [international service-learning] so please contact me for details if you’re interested in attending).
    • Late April, 2019: Presentation of Findings at UBC-Okanagan’s Experiential Education Day
    • Early May, 2019: Experiential Learning full-day Symposium for Celebrate Learning Week.
      • I aim to invite all of the collaborators, participants, and EE community members I’ve connected with over the past 9 months in this project (this means you!). Stay tuned.
    • June 2-4, 2019: Congress Panel Presentation:
      • Presenters will include myself (sharing findings from this project), the collaborative survey team (sharing findings from the experiential education survey), and Adriana Briseno-Garzon with teaching practices survey findings. *Pending acceptance to conference
    • June 2-4, 2019: Congress Pedagogy Hub: This is an event in partnership with Congress 2019 (rather than a research paper session). We will be contributing to a session that looks at credit-based experiential education.
    • Alison Taylor has developed a blog that shares UBC-relevant resources in community engaged learning. She also has a new podcast (found on the blog) in which she and doctoral student, Stephanie Glick, interview community partners and faculty members. Find it here:
    • 12 Principles of Practice: “We need some common language for talking about experiential education” – it’s a sentiment I’ve heard often since this project began. This visual is one way to think about experiential education – not necessarily through a definition, but through principles of practice. This list was adapted from the principles of the Association for Experiential Education. Hopefully it will help you in thinking through your own work.


Update #4: October 18, 2018

I hope autumn is treating all of you well. I have been busy with conversations – both formal and informal – with many of you over the past six weeks. In light of those conversations and the incredible work that is being done around experiential education at UBC, I am going to focus this month’s project update on sharing with everyone the events and resources that you have collectively been sharing with me. But first, here is a quick overview of the primary research I have collected so far for my institutional case study of experiential education at UBC:

  • 5 focus groups with UBC staff who support Experiential Education (32 participants thus far)
  • 7 interviews with UBC faculty who are engaged in Experiential Education (more to come!)
  • Surveys to Faculty engaged in Experiential Education (Due to be sent out at the end of October)

I plan to conduct approximately seven to ten more interviews and one more focus group, at which point I will analyze the findings, synthesize, and disseminatie / share with you. Stay tuned for that in the new year. A big thank you to those of you who have taken the time to participate in focus groups, interviews, or general knowledge sharing for this project.

Events Related to Experiential Education:

  • “Voluntourism: Critiques, Complexities, and Alternatives”[I will be moderating this panel discussion at the Liu Institute on Monday, Oct. 22 at 6pm. Panelists include four experts in global engagement, experiential learning, and higher education, including faculty members and centre directors] Link Here.
  • Winter Institute(December 4-6, 2018): Some of our community engagement colleagues will be presenting on “Preparing Students to Work with Communities.” Another related session explores ways to support inclusion and Indigeneity in the classroom. Link to sessions Here.(Registration required).:
  • Community Engagement Network Event (Oct. 25, 3pm): For UBC faculty and staff who connect with external communities through outreach and engagement. This month’s event includes a presentation from PCPE (Patient & Community Partnership for Education, based out of UBC Health). Event link Here.
  • “Disruption: A Symposium on Global Sustainable Development” Saturday, Oct. 20, 12—6pm. Link Here.
  • CCEL Lunch & Learn: Project Development with Community Partners(Oct. 25, 12pm). Email for more information.


Update #3: September 7, 2018

Project Updates:

I hope the start of this school year is going well for each of you. I’ve enjoyed continued conversations with you in relation to experiential learning at (and beyond) UBC over the past couple of months. A few updates regarding my project:

  • New  Thought Piece: “Experiential Education and the Politics of Citation: Indigenizing and ‘Communitizing’ our work” – This piece is one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It pertains to the homogeneity of scholarship and scholars in the field of experiential education. In short form, the “key scholars” in this field who are widely and frequently cited are overwhelmingly White and male. In my examination of experiential learning at a campus as diverse as UBC, I use this blog post to reflect on how we can individually and collectively co-create a more inclusive environment for those who are marginalized from publication & knowledge construction.
  • Recent Presentation: “Experiential Learning and University Teaching: Exploring Emotion and Experiential Pedagogies Across Disciplines” Dr. Tara Mayer (Faculty member in History) and I recently facilitated a two-hour workshop for new UBC faculty members at the CTLT’s Summer Institute. It was well attended by faculty and staff from across myriad faculties, departments, and units. To view the slide deck from our session (and others from the Summer Institute), see this UBC Wiki Page. If you’re interested in presenting a session at the Winter Institute, see this call for proposals(due Sept. 21).
  • Qualitative Research on Experiential Learning: Next week, I’ll begin a series of interviews and focus groups with faculty members and staff who are deeply involved with experiential learning at UBC. This qualitative data collection process will continue until November/December, at which point I will be switching my focus to analysis and write-up. Thanks to those of you who are involved in this inquiry.
  • Survey to Faculty Members: Having recently achieved ethics approval for our collaborative survey to faculty members, we aim to disseminate the survey in the coming month, particularly to those faculty members at UBC who are known to be involved in various forms of experiential learning. The development and planning of this survey has been a combined effort of staff, faculty, and graduate students at UBC.
  • Continued Website & Resource Development: I continue to add information to the website as I gather it. Please let me know if you would like to be involved in the co-development of any aspect.

Thank you again for your continued interest and involvement in this project. All the best for a beautiful September.



Update #2: July 10

Top 10 Questions, Critiques, and Commentaries on Experiential Learning

“Some feel about experiential education the way Hemingway felt about making love:

Don’t talk about it, you’ll only ruin the experience”

(Nold, cited in Warren et al., 1995, p. 113)

I have discovered through many recent conversations that people are both passionate about – and profoundly confounded by – the concept of “experiential learning.” My observation is that this is often because those who do it (teach it, facilitate it, enjoy it, support it)recognize that in the doing of experiential learning, there exists a mélange of practical wisdom, intuitive knowing, understanding beyond the confines of words, and sometimes even a touch of transcendence. Perhaps the source of frustration in defining, talking and writing about it, then, originates in the perspective that the whole point of experiential education is to – if only briefly – escape the nasty confines of the academy and breathe a little life into concepts and ideas. Universalizing definitions can therefore impose a false sense of epistemological control, thereby feeding the illusion that all things can and must be categorized – even those educational phenomena that are intentionally designed to be beyond words (or at least in an unconventional relationship with them). Perhaps terminology fails us here because experience was never meant to be reduced to a definition.

…And yet…How can we have a meaningful conversation about a concept if we don’t define our boundaries and generate some common language?

And so begins the journey down the fascinating, frustrating, and yet seductive rabbit hole of experiential learning. Below are some highlights of my conversations with various UBC staff, faculty, and students over the past three months. Many of you will probably hear yourselves in these quotes (which, by the way, I have left unattributed to the speaker[s]). In most cases, I have heard a slightly variable version of similar commentary from multiple people. (*Spoiler Alert: I am not about to respond to or answer any of these questions/critiques in this post. If I focus my career as an academic on one of these questions or commentaries [which is probable], I may be able to provide a substantive contribution in about 12 years):

Top 10 Questions, Critiques, and Commentaries on Experiential Learning

1 “What IS experiential learning and what is it not? If it includes everything, then it means nothing. How can we have a meaningful conversation about experiential learning without creating and standing by a definition?”
2 “How can we have a meaningful definition of experiential learning when it looks so different across the disciplines and contexts?”
3 “Imagination is an experience. So can’t you engage in experiential learning just through daydreaming or storytelling?”
4 “The field of experiential learning gives the impression that Dewey and Kolb were somehow the first or brightest people to consider how experience affects learning. Is it because they’re the smartest or the most knowledgeable about experiential learning? Doubtful. What’s more likely is that as White, Western scholars, their voices were privileged over and above others.’ There are plenty of educative experiences that refuse to be ‘Kolbified’”
5 “The whole premise of experiential learning is flawed because it somehow assumes a segregation between ‘the classroom’ and ‘the world’/’the community’/’the environment.’”
6 “How can you separate experience from learning?! Every form of learning is an experience, including lectures, reading, and writing. Even falling down the stairs is an experience you learn from.”
7 “If experiential learning is truly the high impact practice that research says it is, then we are leaving some students behind if we don’t support all interested students to participate – especially those who can’t afford it”
8 “What makes something experiential in a given discipline is whether and how it prepares students for following the career path of that discipline. Experiential learning for a philosophy student might involve thinking and discussing ideas, whereas experiential learning for an engineering student may involve building an automobile. It all depends on the discipline’s culture and professional trajectory”
9 “But how can you possibly do experiential learning with a class of 150 students?”
10 “Everyone thinks they’re an expert in experiential learning is because there’s something about it that feels intuitive. People know what experience is, and they know what learning is, so they assume they know what experiential learning is.”

*A quick post-script to say thank you to those of you who have taken the time to chat with me and broaden my thinking about this project. We can only strengthen our support of experiential learning if we understand how people think about it and are challenged by it. Please feel free to leave comments here or contact me directly at

Update #1: June 6, 2018 (An introduction)

Since this is the first Experiential Learning Project Update, and a considerable aspect of my work is founded on relationship building, it seems appropriate to share with you a short, perhaps vulnerable narrative about how I became interested in EL. Sometimes reflecting on our beginnings is the best way to understand our motivations, our values, and even our theoretical frameworks.

I was 22, reeling from a broken heart, and (for a change) found myself following my father’s advice: “If you’re not into, take a year off of university and go explore the world. Trust yourself enough to know you’ll return and finish your degree.” In the six months that followed, I traveled to Ghana, volunteered as a (completely unqualified) teacher in a rural village, and backpacked around 8 countries in East Africa. (As it were, I also had my introduction to all the cliché and salvationist ways that one should not behave when volunteering; little did I know that my PhD research would one day focus on critical and social justice-oriented approaches to international service-learning, and I would use my past self’s approach as an example of what not to do). Nonetheless…

Early one morning in Rwanda, my friend Cheri and I took bicycle taxis to a small village called Ntarama. It was known for a graphic and raw genocide memorial that had been preserved over the ten years since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Inside the one-room church-turned-memorial, we had to step on pews to avoid the severed bones and skulls that had been left in place. I write this tentatively and with the knowledge that I can’t possibly unpack and do justice to the horror that occurred in that place. But I do wish to focus on a moment that stands out for me in relation to “experiential learning.” A local woman had come to watch us at the memorial. We couldn’t speak the same language but she studied my face as I took in the scene, and as we discovered through broken translations, she had lost her whole family in that room. I won’t pretend to understand her pain, and I’ll never know if my interpretation of our connection was correct. But when we cried together, and looked at one another in the eye, I felt that she felt sorry for me. Our connection – one that may never be corroborated by her – affected me in ways that “book learning” about genocide never had. That learning moment was replete with intense emotion, a physical connection to place, a passionate motivation that gripped my whole body, and a perceived human connection that eludes capture in the confines of any language or text. The woman we had met thanked us for coming, and as our informal local guide explained, it was helpful for victims to know that the injustices of the genocide had not been forgotten.

To say that I returned to my undergrad at UVic the following year with a renewed hunger to learn and generate change is perhaps a gross understatement. In fact, I took any class that involved East African politics, archaeology, anthropology, and the like; I chose research projects that explored the precursors to genocide; I became an activist for genocide education; I dove into postcolonial theory and gave great thought to why and how the West failed Rwanda. Five years later, I also returned to live in Rwanda as I conducted my Master’s fieldwork there.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I see experiential learning as incredibly powerful in its potential to educate for justice, social change, and resistance to systemic inequalities. [*On this visual that I developed to show 3 key theoretical currents in experiential learning, I began my journey with the critical theory current]. I also, however, came to understand EL’s capacity to teach tangible skills, prepare me for professional life, and generate important abilities in relationship building. As an undergraduate, in a world filled with colour and humans and wind and injustice, I had often resented the hours I had to sit in a desk and listen to a lecture. But I see now that those content-rich lectures were also necessary, and that the combination of raw experience, critical reflection, and “book learning” is perhaps one of the most potent pedagogical combinations of all. Now, when I teach my own courses with an eye to student engagement, I try to remember my younger self and her desire for “real-world connections” (while also attending to her problematic assumptions that can accompany idealism)

What about you? If you’re engaged in experiential learning as a faculty member, student, community member, or staff member (or other), what makes it special (or not special)? Is there a narrative about the beginnings of your engagement with experiential learning? What does it tell you about your motivations now? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading.

PS – Expect the rest of the updates to be a lot more pragmatic, focused on goals, research findings, new discoveries, and resources.