Check Your Work: Community-Engaged Learning

We recently had the opportunity to work with a team of brilliant students enrolled in the Educational Studies program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and took them up on their offer to analyze and develop an evaluation plan for one of our BCcampus programs to see what’s working while helping us identify areas to improve. The experiential learning opportunity was excellent for us in terms of the process and product.

Post by the BCcampus editorial team

The benefits of practical and applied learning are well known, and BCcampus often seeks co-op students to work with us in all the units in our organization. So when Bruce Moghtader from UBC reached out to see if we were interested in a program evaluation from master’s-level students, we jumped on board right away.  

One of the programs the students developed an evaluation plan for was the BCcampus Research Fellowship program, which is designed to support small-scale research projects on teaching and learning. As well, the fellowship program provides a vehicle for researchers to practice and share scholarly work. The primary goal of the evaluation was to identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of the program’s design, particularly in terms of its impact on others’ teaching practices and support for researchers as they conducted their studies.

“Our research program is highly practical,” said Tracy Roberts, director of Learning + Teaching at BCcampus. “It is action research. We’re not developing new theories of learning. We are focused on helping people teach or try something new. This student-led evaluation is a great way to find answers to the questions we’re already asking: Are we being as inclusive and supportive of the research as we can? Is there anything we can be doing better? Are there barriers affecting how the program runs? And then there’s another component, where we’re asking, ‘What is happening through the research being conducted?’ This type of work-integrated learning — conducted by education students looking into improving educational practices — is great for all of us.”

Community-Engaged Learning 

“Through interactions like this, learners find a tremendous amount of benefit that goes far beyond basic knowledge transfer,” shared Bruce Moghtader, Community Engaged Learning Officer at UBC. “They gain an increased understanding of self in relation to the community through an examination of beliefs, values, assumptions, strengths, biases, privileges, prejudices, and internalized stereotypes. They improve their understanding of how to dialogue across differences, and they leave this program with enhanced essential life skills through networking, knowledge exchange, and engagement with diverse community stakeholders. The benefits to the student are immense, and the value to the organization is significant.” 

Sharing the student evaluators’ perspective, Xin Hui said, “Once you have worked with a real community partner, it brings whatever you’ve learned from the textbooks and academic journals to life. We learned quite a lot through this process with BCcampus. Tracy was fun to work with, passionate and enthusiastic from day one, and she gave us a lot of guidance and, with that, a better understanding of how the program operated. This let us take the theory from our course textbook and transform it into something practical.”

“Unlike traditional community-engaged learning efforts where course content is mapped to the particular community,” said Bruce, “social impact labs bring students together with community and faculty to analyze, contextualize, and unpack a socially situated challenge so they might decide together how best to approach those situations. We asked BCCampus, ‘Is there a possibility from where you’re sitting for students in evaluation to work with you? And if yes, what are the areas they could contribute to your work? This is reciprocity, in a sense, because both the non-profit organization and the university inform the learning practices. This is why we call it a social impact lab.”

“It was a very fruitful experience to be able to go out to a community to work on a project that links theory to practice,” said Xin. “It reshaped our thinking. When we developed the evaluation plan — being practical, being viable, being feasible, within the limited resources — the expertise was the priority. I can quite confidently say our evaluation plan would have been very different if it was simply a theoretical plan for a fictional organization or company, compared to the real-life experiences with a community-engaged partner.”

Notable Quote(s):

“We appreciate your commitment to guiding us in the evaluation plan — your encouragement, support, and guidance have tremendously helped us find direction and sanity in this intense course. We can proudly say you have made our course a lot more meaningful and memorable. We sincerely hope the evaluation plan will be useful to you and your team.”

— UBC student participants

“We are always iterating and trying to understand our impact. We had a lovely experience working with these students. It was so valuable to have fresh and informed perspectives on our program — we have already begun implementing some of their recommendations.”

— Tracy Roberts, director, Teaching + Learning, BCcampus

“The Centre for Community Engaged Learning would like to thank Dr. Kari Grain and BCcampus for this collaboration.”

 – Bruce Moghtader, Community Engaged Learning Officer, UBC

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The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Zen Chung