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Experiential learning pilot comes to UFV

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This year, UFV will run a pilot of five experiential learning courses through the winter and summer semesters, where students work with city officials to implement a project in the Abbotsford community. This CityStudio pilot program will look to pave the way for a multiyear experiential learning collaboration between the City of Abbotsford and UFV.

CityStudio is an initiative that began in 2011 between Simon Fraser University and the City of Vancouver that works to bring experiential learning into the classroom by connecting students directly with Vancouver City Hall.

Students work on projects in the classroom that address challenges the city has identified and proposed, collaborating directly with city officials in a studio to plan and implement the projects within the community. For each CityStudio course, a city official will be assigned to work directly with the professor to design and create common goals for the project.

Dr. Eric Davis, UFV vice president academic and provost, defines experiential learning as hands on learning. This can take on many forms; working in a science lab can be considered experiential learning or, in the case of CityStudio, working out in the community to complete a project.

“Students are increasingly asking for experiential learning opportunities, as well as opportunities for applied and community engaged research,” Davis said. “This answered both of those requests.”

The studio, a unique feature of the CityStudio initiative, provides a neutral space for students and city officials to come together and brainstorm. It is located in an area away from both the university and city hall. Abbotsford’s studio is planned to be located in the old Centennial Library in downtown Abbotsford, though a temporary location will be found if the building is not ready in time for the pilot courses this semester.

According to Davis, the CityStudio model has been highly successful in Vancouver, with great benefits to both the city and to the university.

“The mayor of Vancouver had said that CityStudio has been a game changer for the city of Vancouver,” Davis said. “It’s helped transform City Hall, helped make City Hall more open, and has transformed student’s expectations and experience about their city.”

Craig Toews, UFV vice president external, said that CityStudio helps the city by bringing in student’s energy and enthusiasm to help solve civic challenges. It also gives city officials a license to experiment with projects in a way they otherwise couldn’t.

“They don’t have to take the fall if something goes a little bit awry,” said Toews. “You can just blame it on CityStudio that they’re experimenting. And how can you say no to students when they have a great project idea to try to solve some sort of problem?”

“Students always see ways around obstacles,” said Davis. “They haven’t worked or lived long enough to become cynical. And it’s really energizing to work with people like that.”

Five city challenges have been selected for the CityStudio pilot of the 27 topics suggested by the city. According to Larissa Horne, experiential education coordinator and history instructor, all of the challenges that the university selected happen to coincide directly with Abbotsford’s long term strategic plan.

Community Arts Practice, VA 390, will be working to slow traffic by adding public art to residential areas. Horne, who spoke with students in this course earlier in the week, said there was a very positive response from students who live in the neighbourhood where the art installation will be located.

“The students are very excited,” Horne said. “They have attachment to the place, and they’re proud that they can do something different in their community.”

Environment: Science and Communications, GEOG/CMNS 257, will address the problem of litter within the Abbotsford community.

Work Spaces, Built Spaces, BUS 478, will likely be collaborating with Community and Interdisciplinary Relationships, CYC 402, on the removal of unnecessary fences around Abbotsford.

Civic Engagement and Participation, IDS 400F, is a seminar course working on a timely project that looks at increasing public participation in the democratic process at a local level, with municipal elections coming up in fall of 2018.

Students gain the experience of working directly with the city hall, and implementing a real project in their community. They also make potential connections with future employers.  

Most importantly though, Horne believes experiential learning opportunities help to make more involved, community-aware citizens.

“I want students to understand that they made a contribution to the life and the betterment of their community,” said Horne.

“I’d like to hope that in this program, students get a sense that they can change the world,” said Davis. “That they don’t have to just accept the world as it is. The world actually is changeable, and it’s people like them who change it.”

The CityStudio organization will host an information presentation on Feb. 5 in A225, from 10:00 – 10:45 a.m.

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