Carleton professor leads community-based learning initiative

 First-year students in the seminar on sustainable environments hosted an eco-workshop at Churchill Alternative School, a community-based learning initiative. (Photo provided by Paul Williams)

Carleton geography and environmental studies adjunct Prof. Paul Williams thinks outside the box when it comes to assessing his students.

For the past two years, Williams has taken his first-year seminar on sustainable environments outside the university’s campus and into the community.

As a part of their coursework, Williams’ students are assigned to organize an eco-workshop for the elementary students at Churchill Alternative School in Ottawa. The purpose of the workshop is to educate the Grade 6 students about the benefits of environmental studies.

“When I was setting out to design assessment for the students … I was thinking more along the lines of different forms of assessment and also how we can take things off campus and the students can apply what they have learned,” says Williams.

The workshop is a part of Williams’ efforts to encourage community-based learning at Carleton.

Students in the full-year class select their topics for the workshop in the fall semester. Over the following months, they develop posters and demonstrations for their presentations. They held the Churchill workshop on April 1.

Williams says he tries to keep his students focused on developing engaging and educational presentations.

“We’re conscious always of the fact that we’re not just there to entertain,” says Williams. “The end goal is to pass that knowledge on to the next generation of students.”

First-year student Emily Clougher participated in the eco-workshop. Her group’s presentation on biodiversity explained what biodiversity is and threats to different species.

As a part of their presentation, Clougher’s group brought in a piece of bark that had been destroyed by emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that kills ash trees. She says the students were interested in the bark because they had seen the effects of the pest in their communities.

“A lot of them were really open to talking and interested in thinking about the different impacts on their community. A lot of them were like, ‘We noticed the ash trees were being cut down. Now we know why.’”

She enjoyed the eco-workshop and hopes Carleton continues to encourage similar community-based learning in classes.

“As university students, we kind of forget how much these younger kids look up to us,” says Clougher. “I think that we have a great opportunity to pass things on.”

Fellow first-year student Rebecca Wedley took part in the workshop as well; her group presented on energy. She also appreciated the opportunity to share her work with the community.

“I hope I get to see some more of that in my other classes,” says Wedley. “People try so much harder when it’s just not just going to be marked by a teacher or a TA (teaching assistant) – it’s going to impact somebody’s life.”

The eco-workshop also greatly benefitted the elementary students, according to Churchill teacher Ray Kalynuk. He says his students were talking about the workshop for days.

“Anytime you get college or university students coming to the school to interact with the students, they benefit because that’s such a role model for them. You can’t explain enough how important it is to see real people continuing with education.”

Going forward, Williams hopes Carleton will continue to encourage more community-based learning.

“I think we should all be looking into this sort of thing. It’s giving back to the community, it’s applying knowledge, which I think is something we sometimes forget about.”

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