Sept. 1, 2022

Experiential learning at UCalgary supports student, industry and community needs

We report back on UCalgary’s Experiential Learning Plan and talk about what's next
Experiential Learning Community Report

Students across Canada continue to call for more opportunities in experiential learning (EL) to help them grow valuable skills in preparation for the future. The University of Calgary recently released a community update on its own efforts to foster EL.

EL helps students discover their sense of purpose, enhances their skills and expands their network — all in an effort to prepare them for their future academic and professional careers. Additionally, many experiential activities (which include undergraduate research, internships, study-abroad programs and service-learning) are considered high-impact experiences that result in higher student engagement and a stronger sense of community.

In 2020, UCalgary launched its Experiential Learning Plan (2020-25), both as a response to students’ expectations for this type of learning, and employers’ expectations for skilled graduates. The plan was the result of two years of campus-community consultations.

Now midway through the plan, the Office of Experiential Learning (OEL), in collaboration with units across UCalgary, has released the 2022 Experiential Learning Community Report, which celebrates the work of teams across campus here and lays out next steps to achieve the bold targets set in the plan by 2025.

“Experiential learning fosters real-world skills and professional growth for all students, something that UCalgary is deeply invested in as a vital part of the student experience,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor. “This report demonstrates how experiential learning spans all disciplines, helping UCalgary graduates prepare to tackle big problems and expand their knowledge in new ways.”

Creating opportunities for work-integrated learning

Students, parents and employers alike are increasingly focused on experiential learning in the workplace, or work-integrated learning (WIL).

UCalgary has been working diligently to provide WIL opportunities through its academic programs. Currently, 82 per cent of programs provide this type of EL. In fact, despite the economic contractions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in WIL stayed relatively consistent. Between the 2018/19 and 2020/2021 academic years, around one-quarter of UCalgary’s undergraduate students benefited from a WIL experience each year.

“Over the last year, the academic units have worked hard to identify courses that involve WIL. As a campus, we’re making a lot of progress,” says Erin Kaipainen, director of experiential and work-integrated learning. “None of this work can be done in isolation and I’m inspired by the innovation in new academic programs that provide students with opportunities to work with industry and community partners.

“We continue to enhance our reporting on student participation in EL and WIL. By 2025, we’d like to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn through experience.”

Learning opportunities across campus showcase depth and breadth of student experience

A whole-campus effort contributes to the university’s paramount goal of having all students engage in EL opportunities during their time at UCalgary. Each semester, diverse and varied programs and activities strengthen community-building, drive innovation, create changemakers and support career transitions.

For example, UCalgary Nursing students were hired to support the health-care system during the pandemic, while students across faculties supported the monitoring of COVID-19 in local wastewater. Through the pandemic, the Faculty of Social Work shifted the way it offers practicum placements across the province, meeting the needs or rural and remote communities. UCalgary leaders responded to the disruption and uncertainty of COVID-19 with creativity and by innovating in experiential learning.  

What’s next in experiential learning

In preparing the community report, members of the UCalgary community were asked to look forward and help identify what is needed next to deliver on the commitments of the Experiential Learning Plan.

Building more capacity, designing more flexible EL, increasing first- and second-year undergraduate opportunities, and strengthening reporting and promotion efforts were strategies discussed by students and faculty. 

Meaningful conversations and collaboration also led to recommendations around enhancing and expanding equitable pathways to EL, strengthening community partnerships, as well as fostering and promoting Indigenous ways of knowing in experiential learning.

“I’m inspired at what we’re striving to accomplish,” says Dr. Leslie Reid, vice-provost (teaching and learning). “Every effort to advance the quality and opportunities for EL is important. I am grateful to be able to work with such committed teams across our campus and community partners on our goals, and this community report is a celebration and reflection of our efforts.”

Located in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Experiential Learning (OEL) acts as UCalgary’s central hub for experiential learning (EL), working in partnership with teams across campus. The office is guided by the priorities set in the Experiential Learning Plan to build capacity for, enhance access to and promote high-impact EL opportunities for all UCalgary students. Learn more about the OEL and connect with the team.