Hannah Celinski dances her way to becoming a communications professor

Hannah Celinski is one of three newest faculty members to join our Department this Fall. She shared with us some interesting facts, and one boring one, about her life and her teaching in a conversation with Mai Anh Doan earlier this month.

Mai Anh Doan: Congratulations again on your new position. It’s great to see you again with your usual contagious energy and smile. I know that you’ve been teaching as a sessional for a couple of semesters here, but we didn’t get to chat much. Shall we start with your telling us a little bit about your professional background?

Hannah Celinski: I grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo, and after graduating from Sheridan College’s Music Theatre Performance Program, I worked as a professional dancer and choreographer across Canada and abroad on industrials, musicals, music videos, cruise ships, commercials, and notably on the workshop of the Broadway show Fosse with dance legend Gwen Verdon. I eventually moved to Abbotsford and became the owner of Aerial Dance & Acro Academy. I had the pleasure of teaching students from all over the Lower Mainland, and mentoring interested students through the process of becoming professional actors, singers, and dancers.

Hannah being caught at the West Coast Flying Trapeze Circus School, 2018

Mai Anh: That’s very impressive! I used to want to be able to dance professionally but soon realized that not everyone can pursue it as a career (there goes my dream ). How much of it do you bring it to your new position? Can you give us some examples?

Hannah: At UFV, I teach business writing, public speaking, and first-year courses for students learning to thrive in the post-secondary environment. My experience as a business owner allows me to draw from real-world examples to bring the material to life, and my work coaching students to successfully navigate a variety of intense interview settings is the bedrock of my public speaking course. I also relate the theory, textbook readings, and assignments to stories that capture incredible things that happened to myself, my friends, and my previous students. Storytelling has always been a feature of my teaching style.

Mai Anh: We also know that you are pursuing your PhD at the same time. What is your PhD about? How do you think your PhD study helps with you with your teaching?

Hannah: My PhD research is currently focused on what I call Legacy Learning and Legacy Instruction, which capture the role of exponential growth in the physical and cognitive processes of learning. I became interested in the topic while examining Virtual Reality (VR) as a vehicle for archiving movement. The current project has evolved to include the evolution of Learning Outcomes, and the importance of mindfulness in the classroom.

My research is deeply connected to my position, as it informs my teaching practice, assignments, and assessment strategies. For example, my previous experience with technology has resulted in an assignment that incorporates Virtual Reality, reflection, and team development strategies to serve specific Learning Outcomes for CSM 104.

Mai Anh: Given your creative background and your PhD project, what would you say is your most outstanding character(s) as a professor?

Hannah: I believe in student success. Each student approaches the material in their own way, for their own reasons. I am there to offer each student the tools they need to be successful in their own right. I cannot do the work for them, but I can certainly offer them my knowledge, support, experiences, and positivity so they can develop their own academic toolkit. My hope is that their kit serves them long after they have graduated.

Mai Anh: As we are entering a new semester, what would you advise students for them to do well in university?

Hannah: Go to class. Just be in the room. Attendance allows you to connect to UFV’s community, your instructors, and classmates. I encourage my students to attend everything they can because you never know where the conversation will go, what tidbit of wisdom will resonate with you, or who you will meet. My best assignments grew out of unexpected connections I made simply by being in the room, even when the topic did not seem to relate to my interests. Go to class.

Mai Anh: Excellent advice! Let move from students to the Department. What do you like the most about working at UFV’s CMNS department?

Hannah: Our department is full of like-minded instructors who support one another and see the potential for Communications at UFV. I am delighted to contribute to a department that encourages its instructors to expand their teaching practice and subscribe to Universal Design for Learning, while supporting contemporary assignments that stimulate student engagement and development.

Mai Anh: Finally, what’s the most boring thing about you? 😊

Hannah Celinski: I floss.

😊 😊 😊 Hannah, thank you so much for your sharing and for your time. All the best with the new semester and the new role!

Puzzling over a Career in Communications?

Are you interesting in taking communications courses but not sure what you could do with them? At UFV, we offer both a Minor in Communications and a Professional Communication Essentials certificate. Completing a program in communications will teach you how to make and move messages within or between individuals, organizations, companies, NGOs, charities, societies, cultures, and media.

Professionals in communications learn to deliver ideas to public or private audiences.

What industries are looking for communications professionals?

Any organization that communicates with the public, clients, or businesses (such as corporate management, governmental management, policy producers, political and charitable interests) all connect with, influence, or inform individuals, clients, and strategic partners (often through the media).

Most large industries or corporate entities communicate internally, between departments, offices, or branches. Corporate communications and organizational communications professionals shape and move this kind of messaging.

What does a communications career involve?

Communications careers typically involve shaping the public or private/internal voice and identity of an organization through writing, webpage design, Audio/Visual, social media, and public/media engagement. If you’ve ever interacted with a company, a charity, a government, or an NGO, a professional communicator created the pathways, messages, materials, and the themes for that communication.

Communication professionals develop a “voice” for brands, products and companies. This voice is specifically developed to be appealing to the particular demographic that these brands, products and companies want to engage.

In what career field or industries do communications professionals work?

Here are some examples of various roles communication professionals find themselves in:

Business

Public Relations        

Advertising    

International Relations and Negotiations

Broadcasting 

Journalism (Print or Electronic)          

Theatre/Performing Arts       

Government/Politics

High Technology Industries  

  • Television / Film Producer / Director
  • Systems Analyst
  • Technical Copywriter

Communication and Health Care / Social Services

Think you like what you just read? Check out our communications course offerings by viewing the UFV timetable. For more information about the Department of Communications, visit the Communications website.

Natasha Knight selected for the 2019 Communications, Undergraduate Research Excellence Award

On Wednesday May 23rd, Communications student Natasha Knight was honoured along with a host of amazing student researchers at the 2019 Undergraduate Research Excellence Awards at the University of the Fraser Valley. Here is what Natasha had to say about the research she completed for her W19 CMNS 351 course [Professional Research Report Writing for the Workplace] with instructor Dr. Marcella LaFever.

My project topic stemmed from an underlying passion for health and fitness. Since health and fitness has become a popular trend in today’s society, I decided to compare five health and fitness apps to see which apps best motivated its users and kept them actively engaged. I searched for the highest rated health and fitness apps through Google and the Apple Store. The final list included MyFitnessPal, Fooducate, Fitness point, Nike Training Club and 8fit Workouts & Meal Planner.

The report reinforced that not all fitness apps are operated the same and some do not motivate consumers as well as others. I was able to differentiate each app and determine which apps provided easy navigation techniques, provided useful information to the consumer, and used motivational features to keep the consumer engaged.

While none of the five apps were difficult to navigate and provided a variety of useful information, two were superior in providing motivational strategies. Both of these apps had social networking techniques. MyFitnessPal allowed you to add friends to motivate you along your journey and share your logs with them. Fooducate had a platform similar to Facebook in which users could post anything motivational such as progress photos, healthy recipes, and inspirational quotes, to name a few. Having these kinds of features in an app is something that will keep the consumer engaged and wanting to use it more and more. Not only do they get to learn about health and fitness, they get to connect with others who are going through similar journeys.

Dean of Arts Jacqueline Nolte introducing UFV student Natasha Knight: Photo by Dr. Mai Anh Doán

Engaging in this research project has allowed me to enhance my education in terms of gathering information in a variety of forms and taking a hands-on approach to research. This allowed me to gain more insight on the kinds of reports written in a business setting and has advanced my skills.

I am a third-year student in the Bachelor of General Studies Program minoring in Business and Communications. I have previously completed a Social Services Diploma and a Professional Communication Essentials associate certificate. I plan to apply this degree towards a project management or a human resources related position in my future career.

LGBTQ People in the Workplace: The University of the Fraser Valley Giving Students Hope

UFV
Guest Blog By Amanda Rathore

LGBTQ people may hide their private lives from their colleagues and even clients for fear of homophobia or exclusion in activities. It is all too common for them to be overlooked for promotions – especially if the role is public facing. Just like me, they often avoid questions about their family life or their relationships so that they don’t cause a scene at work or give people a reason to view them differently.

Most of us know someone, consider themselves, or have a family member who identifies as being a part of the LGBTQ community. We live in a heteronormative community that usually does not consider how it might be difficult for people who do not identify as heterosexual to live and work in society.  Over the years there has been a gradual change in how LGBTQ people are viewed in the workplace. The workplace is a professional environment where your sexuality should not have a negative effect on you, yet in often it does. It’s time for companies to start accepting and creating an inclusive atmosphere for all generations where they feel welcomed in their workplace of choice no matter their background.

The Rise of LGBTQ People 

A Gallup poll study (Newport 2018) found that the percentage of [American] millennials who identify as LGBT expanded from 7.3% to 8.1% from 2016 to 2017, and is up from 5.8% in 2012. By contrast, the LGBT percentage in Generation X (those born from 1965 to 1979) was up only .2% from 2016 to 2017. There was no change last year in the LGBT percentage among Baby Boomers (born 1946 through 1964) and Traditionalists (born prior to 1946).

This data suggests that there could be more Millennials in the workplace that are willing to identify as compared to older generations. The Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers were more focused on the nuclear family model which consisted of two heterosexual parents and their children. Back then, if you were gay you kept it a secret and hidden from the public. Gen X who were more focused on activism and gender equality, moved away from the nuclear family, but still being gay was not something easily shared. Millennials and Gen Z are described as being big on experimenting with gender and sexual spectrums. As a result, there are more people from these generations, even though they don’t identify as LGBTQ, who are supportive and demonstrate a more open mind.

This suggests that older people may have been less open or less exposed to same-sex relationships. The end result of this may be that of isolation, which is harmful to the physical and mental health of all older adults.  Older generations might be afraid to tell others in their life that they are gay for fear of discrimination, harassment or being rejected by friends and family. This is still also common for many LGBTQ youth even though today people are more accepting then in the past.  From the Gallup poll stats, we can see throughout the years, there has been a change on how we view sexuality and what constitutes a family.

Sexuality at Work

While there has been progress made, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people still worry that revealing their sexuality at work will have negative consequences.

Likewise, older generations who were previously not allowed to express themselves are now coming out today with the same fears as those from the younger generations. Workplaces are becoming more aware that people of all ages and different sexualities make up their workforce.

Consider informal lunch room discussions. Have you even thought that having a simple conversation about family life, what you did on the weekend, or who you might be dating can be a very stressful and awkward discussion for an LGBTQ colleague? I have personally had this experience many times and it makes me feel uncomfortable. The risk for me is that I may want to be social and tell you about my life, but fear of rejection from my colleagues is too great. LGBTQ people, like myself, are very aware of the fact that we live in a heteronormative society.

Companies Working Towards Inclusivity  

LGBTQ bathroom

*Image published via Geneseo

Companies can use bold statements and subtle signals to create an inclusive atmosphere throughout the entire organization. The solutions need not be complex. Leadership with an open mind and positive approach to change is essential.

A new survey from the Human Rights Campaign states “Fostering a culture of inclusion has direct effects on workers’ output and productivity” Carpenter (2018). In the same survey, 31% of LGBTQ respondents said they felt unhappy or depressed at work. Another 20% had stayed home from work because their workplace “wasn’t always accepting of LGBTQ people.” Others said their inability to feel comfortable at work had even pushed them to search for other jobs. Nearly half of all LGBTQ employees aren’t out at work” (para 2).

Some bold statements that organizations can make to create a welcoming workplace would be to create gender neutral bathrooms, not tolerate bullying or harassment, and to respect everyone regardless of their identities. The University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), which I attend, has done a great job of being inclusive by installing gender neutral bathrooms throughout their campus buildings. I personally use them and have friends who use them because it makes them feel more comfortable and valued as a member of the UFV community. Having to use a gendered washroom causes problems with people who look like a “male” but identify as a “female” and vice versa. These individuals feel fear, discomfort and judgment for just using the bathroom that they would use if they were dressed or looked “normal” in society’s eyes.

Organizations can also let qualified people in the LGBTQ community become leaders. For example, UFV’s new president Dr. MacLean is the first woman to hold the title of president in a non-interim role. She and her partner have taken up residency in the Friesen house on campus and accompany each other to student, faculty and community events. To me this is amazing because, first, UFV has welcomed a woman to be in power, which on its own is a huge step forward. Second, having a woman who is with someone of the same sex be the face of UFV makes me happy and proud of myself because it shows that UFV is very inclusive and that anyone, if they work with integrity, no matter their sexuality, can do anything!

UFV is giving me hope for a better future.

UFV President

*Image published via Skookum magazine
*Main header image published via Dreamstime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Researchers win awards at Student Research Day 2019

GUEST BLOG by Maxina Spies for UFV’s Centre for Social Research

On March 26, 2019, University of the Fraser Valley students from a variety of faculties presented their research findings with posters and mini-lectures at the annual Student Research Day in Evered Hall on the Abbotsford campus. Several individuals and teams presented projects related to social research and won awards for their outstanding work. We are proud to highlight them here.

Among the winners was Erin Haan, a second year student minoring in Communications, who was awarded the $200 Associate Vice-President, Research, Engagement & Graduate Studies prize for her research on “Media Framing of the Dairy Industry in the Canada/US Trade Renegotiation,” supervised by Communications faculty member and Centre for Social Research affiliate Dr. Marcella LaFever. As part of her Professional Research Report Writing class, she looked at the framing of the new USMCA trade negotiation, with a focus on the dairy industry because of her own experience working on dairy farms for over six years. Erin also has taken a dairy certificate program, which helped her interpret her research on how Canadian and American newspapers framed the dairy conversation during the 2018 free trade negotiation. She stressed that “media outlets have had a large impact on the renegotiation issue by presenting particular points of views,” and that “biased headlines can cloud the public opinion on the renegotiation.”

Nursing student Christine Drew, supervised by Professor Shelley Canning, won the $200 Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences Award for her research titled, “Exploring the understanding and comfort levels of nursing students with Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).” Christine’s research flowed out of a directed studies research course in the nursing program and her recognition of the layers of ethical and practical challenges for nurses in relation to the recent MAiD legislation. Her research contributes to a small existing body of research on the topic and helps address these challenges. Christine said her research highlights that “comfort levels surrounding MAiD are very multifaceted and can be influenced by age, gender, work experience, educational levels and background personal beliefs such as religiosity.”

Christine found that when she began the project, people would often ask for her opinion on MAiD, although she feels that the “opinion of the nurse innately shouldn’t be considered for a patient requesting MAiD.” This dichotomy intrigued her and spurred her interest in her research question. In reflecting on her research, Christine stressed that “it is vital that nurses reflect and be aware of their values and beliefs surrounding MAiD so as to provide impartial patient-centred care,” which points to the importance of education for nurses on end of life care. Christine will be presenting this study in May at the UBC Graduate Nursing Student Association annual symposium, and will be graduating in June.

Psychology student Caroline Duncan won the $200 Dean, College of Arts – Social Sciences Award for her poster presentation on “Loneliness, Resilience, and Cognition of Older Adults.” Duncan’s research was supervised by Dr. Lesley Jessiman, a psychology professor and member of UFV’s Centre for Education and Research on Aging (CERA). Dr. Jessiman’s work with CERA has looked at issues related to improving quality of life for aging populations, researching ageism and higher education, and the effects of typical aging on emotional and cognitive functions. She points out that Caroline’s research has is “particularly important given the growing older adult populations in the Lower Mainland, which is where the data was collected.” As a mature student, Caroline shared about the relevance of her research to her own life as she cares for her aging father, who has “struggled with loneliness and loss of his resilience when faced with adversity later in his life.” Caroline’s interest in completing this project as part of her honour’s thesis for her psychology degree grew after taking UFV’s Adulthood and Aging course.

The research also connects to the intergenerational aspect of aging, because, as Caroline puts it, “We are all hopefully going to be given the opportunity to grow old in our lifetime, and loneliness does not align with our human nature.” The chance to interact with participants and learn from their life experiences was a highlight for Caroline as she conducted her research. She hopes that this work pushes UFV to integrate a gerontology program for students. Dr. Jessiman hopes that the research “will help inform policy by identifying specific means with which to reduce levels of loneliness among our aging populations,” which has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a significant factor in rising morbidity and mortality rates in older populations. Both researchers hope to continue a second phase of the study with semi-structured interviews of a wider sample set.

Business students Allan Les, Ford McMahon, and Simeon Gellert were awarded the $200 Vice Provost and Associate Vice-President, Academic Award for their poster presentation on “Crime Rates in Canada,” supervised by Professor David Dobson from the UFV School of Business. As part of David Dobson’s Economic and Business Statistics course, the team developed a research question focused on whether there is a correlation between a local police force and lower crime rates. The group focused on Surrey’s expensive decision to switch from RCMP to a local police force. Based on a statistical analysis, the team concluded that there is a positive correlation between having a local police force and lower crime rates. Although this was a strong factor in reducing crime rate, they also found that socioeconomic factors played an even more significant role, stressing that, “In order to ensure continued decreases in the local CSI (Crime Severity Indexes), Surrey’s City Council should continue their work to encourage post-secondary education, stable families, and economic development to provide well-paying jobs.” Although this project was not directly related to the business program, Simeon Gellert stated that it was an enjoyable project and he hopes to work with Allan and Ford again in the near future.

We congratulate these students for their excellent contributions to social research which not only enriches the UFV academic community, but also has important applications in our wider communities.

For more information on the Centre for Social Research:

Website https://www.ufv.ca/social-research/

Twitter @4socialresearch https://twitter.com/4SocialResearch

Book Displays for Raising Intercultural Competence a Big Success during Valley Fest

Your Heart Is the Size of Your Fist: A Doctor Reflects on Ten Years at a Refugee Clinic by Martina Scholtens

In case you need a reading recommendation… here are six great reads that could help raise your intercultural competence along the way.

On March 13, during Valley Fest week, the students from Communications 180 showed off their semester project. They spent the weeks leading up to the event reading, reflecting, and planning. It wasn’t easy. Their job was to pick out concepts from the book that they were also studying through other materials in class and be able to tell their audience why their particular book was a good way to learn about that concept.

Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival by Bev Sellars
The Boy on the Beach: My Family’s Escape from Syria and Our Hope for a New Home by Tima Kurdi
Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

It was my pleasure as the instructor to spend the previous summer reading through a dozen wonderful books to pick ones that would engage, intrigue, and also connect to real life Canadian stories of challenging intercultural encounters. Connecting the assignment to Valley Fest seemed the perfect vehicle to press the students to do their best and the rose to the occasion.

In Search of A Better World: A Human Rights Odyssey by Payam Akhavan

Of course the project had a broader goal as well; to work towards meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s several Calls to Action that ask again and again for institutions to increase the levels of intercultural competence for professionals and all Canadians.

This is also a great place to announce the exciting news that while the Introduction to Intercultural Communication course has only been running once a year for the last several years, it will run twice in the 2019-2020 academic year. Check out the timetable for one section in Fall 2019 and another for Winter 2020.

The Juggler’s Children: A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us by Carolyn Abraham

All of the books featured by these students are available through the University of the Fraser Library and through most public library systems throughout Canada (as soon as the students return their copies of course) 🙂

Listening from an unfamiliar worldview: It takes practice

NOW RESCHEDULED: Monday Feb. 25, 2019

Hot on the heels of Dr. Mai Anh Doan’s talk at the Scholarly Sharing Initiative event this month about financial communication as it relates to crowd-sourced fundraising you will have a chance to catch up on a research project undertaken by another member of the Communications department, Dr. Marcella LaFever at the upcoming February 13 event.

Marcella, in examining the implications for herself to decolonize her communication practices, has focused her ongoing research program on listening to Indigenous voices that have been saying for a long time what colonizers need to do to change their attitudes and practices. Dr. LaFever’s current work alongside Shirley Hardman (UFV’s Senior Advisor on Indigenous Affairs) investigates use of First Nation storytelling as a form of dialogic participation, specifically in relation to how stories were used by Indigenous participants in submissions to the 2010 Cohen Commission on Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

The presentation for the Scholarly Sharing Initiative follows up on stories that were initially coded through use of Stó:lo story types: Sqwelqwel (oral narratives relating to personal history) and Sxwôxwiyám (oral histories that describe the distant past). This discussion focuses on the third stage of the analysis, the use of Linda Tuhiwai-Smith’s “Twenty-Five Indigenous Projects” as explained in her 1999 innovative book “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples.”

The presentation will ask participants to engage in a discussion investigating the validity of using this as a qualitative coding framework.

From the UFV Events Calendar:

Scholarly Sharing Initiative — Indigenous Stories, Reflections

 

 

 

Connecting while traveling internationally: No easy answers

For years now, when people asked me why I didn’t have a cell phone (no it wasn’t because I refused to keep up with technology) – I would tell them “as soon as a carrier makes it seamless to cross over the Canada-U.S. border and still have service, I will get one.” Finally this year, a Canadian carrier figured it out and the price stabilized to something reasonable. I signed on.

I traveled last spring and everything worked as promised. No extra charges; coverage 100% of the time (excluding super remote rural areas of course). However, on my most recent trip I ran into a few problems, not the fault of my carrier but more related to the nature of my phone use – I was contacting friends and family to make plans for visiting.

I was merrily texting and leaving phone messages. I did realize that for many people the only contact method I had for them was Skype, Facebook via messenger, or ultimately through email which we had been using for years because phoning was just not an option for them or for me given cost and borders.

Then it got tricky…

My granddaughter was asking me why I had her blocked. I was horrified – of course I didn’t have her blocked. We figured out it was because she could get my texts and voice mail but she couldn’t reply because she didn’t have either an iPhone or a service that let her respond to a Canadian phone number [No wonder I wasn’t getting answers from a few people I expected to respond]. I asked her what other messaging she used besides sms and specifically whether she used messenger – her answer “nothing” and “no, I don’t like it.” How is that for not wanting to keep up with technology, and she a post-millennial? We settled on email, but really, I know and you know that isn’t going to work, right?

One friend and I have always connected through skype and we settled that we would just keep doing that. I long ago cut down on skype use so I am not sure how well that will work.

Another friend who I have only ever connected with through FB sent me the message above and asked me the big question “What does the communication expert have to say?” I don’t know what to tell her but this has made me question how we stay in touch in such a globalized world and reminded me why “communication” can be so complicated (this particular example is merely a symptom).

Interestingly, searching the net doesn’t give us much of an answer about what to do when traveling internationally. There are of course things like buying a new sim card for each country (you can imagine the complications here I am sure); or there is advice on how to find free or cheap WiFi (not all that helpful); and then of course the least helpful perhaps, one-way stuff like write a blog or send a postcard. If you can get everybody onto the same app maybe that’s a solution but good luck with that venture.

So – no solutions here but feel free to comment on what you do to stay connected and make meet-up plans while traveling internationally.

twitter: @MLaFeverPhD

Podcasts not so new: Podcast fests another story

By Marcella LaFever

From its roots as audioblogging in the 1980s to its reinvention with the release of the iPod in 2004, the phenomenon of podcasting seems to have skyrocketed in recent years. The inaugural Vancouver Podcast Festival just took accessibility to the digital world to a new level this past November 8th to the 10th.

I could only attend the Friday sessions but it was nice to bump into Jess Wind through the twitterverse while waiting for the panel discussion on “Idea to Audio” to commence. Jess was waiting eagerly for the livecast of Hannah McGregor’s podcast Secret Feminist Agenda in the next session but it seems we did have at least one thing in common – getting some tips on starting a podcast from a fantastic panel that included some people that even other successful podcasters were eager to hear.

One question to the panel about ways to assess success led to a nice little list, from the obvious “downloads” to the more obscure and harder to measure – big data on whether audience listened all the way through or when they dropped out. Other measures included

  • interactions at podcast events
  • engagement through twitter, FB, Instagram
  • Returning listeners
  • critical reviews

with a reminder for “different measures for different types.”

In Hannah McGregor’s session that followed, we were treated to Hannah’s first ever live interview with two women criminal defense attorneys, Gloria Ng and Colleen Elden. As Hannah puts it, to talk about “charter rights, feminist friendship, and whether the law is a tool that can be bent towards justice or is inherently aligned with the oppressive function of the state!”

The final free session of the day was one with CBC’s Geoff Turner about his podcast On Drugs and David Payne’s Somebody Somewhere taking on true stories of the legal system. Both fascinating to say the very least 🙂

I truly wish I could have made it to the rest of the festival but I am pumped to finally get the Outdoors Golden podcast up and running soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking the Talk of Active Experiential Learning

By Mai Anh Doan

What happens when you soak pinecones in water? They close. And how do you get them to open up again? Well, either put them under direct sunlight (something we miss during these winter months) or put them in an artificially hot setting such as an oven. In both cases, it will take more time for them to open up again.

The metaphor powerfully reminded us, twelve members who sat in the University of the Fraser Valley’s very first New Faculty Development Program, about the importance of creating an open and inclusive classroom environment for students. On every Friday afternoon, for 11 weeks, we switched to being mature students and tackled the most essential issues of learning and teaching at UFV. The classes were always full of ideas and energy as members discussed and shared their teaching experiences with each other and with facilitators from the Teaching and Learning Unit and guests.

In the first half of the program, we re-examined seemingly traditional concepts such as student motivation, engagement in learning, learner community, experiential learning, and positive collaboration. Classic reads, for example, Freire’s banking concept or Mezirow’s transformational model of learning were used as starting points for further in-class discussions on their implications for various disciplines. We were also treated to hearing stories from students and seasoned faculty members who designed and participated in elaborative experiential learning opportunities that made life-long impacts.

For the second half of the program, we immersed in the sea of educational technologies. Some of the members are very well versed in this area, and all of us learned something from everybody. Through a Blackboard discussion, we built an impressive repertoire of the technologies that consists of well-known and well-used tools such as PowerPoint, or Blackboard Collaborate, and newer, cool programs such as Zeetings, Socrative, VoxVote that get students to participate in class in real time.

But perhaps, the biggest takeaway from the program was the opportunity for us, newbies to UFV, to network with peers from other departments. Some of us are already talking about cross- and inter-disciplinary projects that help students see their subjects of study under different lights. As the program continues next semester, we are in fact looking forward to seeing some of these projects come to fruition.