Elections BC is giving UFV a $10,000 grant to offer a new course for the winter 2016 semester. The three-credit upper-level course, Youth and Electoral Politics (IDS 400), will be taught by six professors from different disciplines to a maximum of 25 students, with professors alternating throughout the semester.
According to the course outline, which was cited in an article written for the UFV Today blog but is not available in UFV’s course outlines directory online, the goal is for students to “make sense of why youth and young adults have disengaged from the electoral process [and] more importantly, to develop evidence-based recommendations and strategies to increase re-engagement.”
Although the course will be funded entirely by the grant, with no funds contributed by the university, students who take it will be charged tuition as they would with any other for-credit course, which then goes into the university’s general revenue.
The grant follows a 2012 pilot project between Elections BC and Emily Carr University (ECU), which resulted in a similar idea. With its $10,000 grant from Elections BC, ECU created a course called Designing for Democracy which focused on bringing students from multiple disciplines together to create a campaign for the 2013 provincial election that would encourage young adults (between 18 and 24) to vote. With the next provincial election tentatively scheduled for May 2017, this time Elections BC has approached UFV and five other BC post-secondary institutions with a similar pitch.
The course at UFV will be similarly interdisciplinary, and technically the first of its kind to be offered here. A free EDUC / PHIL 362 course offered last spring, which used the existing framework of a philosophy of education course to have students plan for the UFV 2025 initiative, was similar in that students from all disciplines were able to register, but differs primarily because it was funded internally from UFV’s 2025 visioning budget. It was also taught by a single instructor, whereas IDS 400 will be taught by six: Hamish Telford (political science); Rana Ahmad (philosophy); Sven van de Wetering (psychology); Sam Schechter (communications), who wrote the UFV Today blog post on the course; Rajnish Dhawan (English); and Amy Prevost (criminology).
Ken Brealey, UFV’s associate dean of faculty, noted in an email that the six different faculty members are taking on the course on top of their regular duties.
“[The] six different faculty … already have full course loads, in addition to their departmental scholarly and service obligations, and are delivering this course on an overload basis.”
Hamish Telford explained that each professor will teach two classes sequentially and be paid on a prorated basis, with Telford, as the lead instructor, teaching the 13th class. All professors will come on the first day of class so students can meet them. As for the content and aims of the course, Telford says the focus is on not just solving a problem, but reaching out with a solution.
“[It’s about] creating a message and figuring out how to transmit it,” he said, admitting that although he is optimistic, it will be hard to say how successful the project will be at this stage. “It’s an experiment. I’ll be fully frank about that.”
UFV’s course may also set a precedent for future multidisciplinary offerings at UFV. The IDS 400 course offering (unrelated to the Elections BC project) was initially created more than 20 years ago in 1994, but was dropped for unknown reasons and is only now being resurrected for the youth and electoral politics course. In the future, similar courses may follow.
“Hopefully, [the course] will also serve as a model — both for what works and does not work — that may guide us forward in the development of similar team-taught and multi-disciplinary opportunities,” said Brealey over email.
Brealey noted UFV’s peace and conflict studies program as a somewhat comparable example of funded partnerships often established by universities.
“Universities enter into funded partnerships on all kinds of initiatives, and most do come with expected deliverables. However, all partnerships must also respect the principles of scholarly independence and academic freedom,” Brealey wrote.
That is to say that, as Telford corroborated, Elections BC will have no say in how the course content for IDS 400 is created or offered, beyond its approval of UFV’s proposal and offer of funding.
The 2012 ECU course resulted in a campaign that Keith Archer, B.C.’s chief electoral officer, marks as a success.
“[The course] was really successful,” Archer said on a Voice of BC video segment about Elections BC (July 10, 2014). “One of the messages that came back to us was that young people enjoy speaking with humour — they like a bit of levity, they don’t like to be lectured to … So we used that advice and a little bit of creative freedom in some of the messaging we went forward with in the election, because a target for us was young voters.”
Archer went on to note that, while Elections BC’s attempts to encourage voters to participate in provincial elections are not the sole determinant in voter turnout, turnout did rise in the 2013 election.
“It went up by about 160,000 voters and by about three percentage points, for the first time in 20 years that voter turnout went up in British Columbia.”
One student who took part in the course at ECU, Gina Hetland, explained in a (separate) video about how the experience of taking the course prepared her practically for degrees post-graduation, citing the focus on collaboration as a significant asset.
“Instead of being very solo in your practice, [you] really understand the group dynamic … Also, working with a client is very helpful. You get to know the limitations but also the amazing opportunities that are possible.”
Another student in the course, Keiran Wallace, said in the video that taking it improved his own political engagement.
“One of the most important things I’ve taken away from this class is now I’m [a] registered voter and I can vote,” he said.
With files from Valerie Franklin.