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Sharing a leading learning model

June 5, 2013

More and more students are demanding a different learning model from universities. Whether they are recent high school grads who are accustomed to team-based, experiential learning or adult learners who practice real-world problem solving on a daily basis, an ivory tower is not where they want to learn. That’s according to Jennifer Walinga, director of the School of Communication and Culture at Royal Roads University.

“Royal Roads is a breakthrough in that it offers a venue for people who never felt they fit and felt like they were in conflict with other structures and models,” Walinga says. “It gives them a home.”

Royal Roads University has been at the forefront of innovative learning since it was established in 1995. Hallmarks of the university’s model include blended learning (online courses and short, on-campus residencies) and cohorts (going through the entire program with a small group of fellow students), as well as a focus on applied and experiential learning.

Walinga and other program heads in the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences are now sharing some of the challenges they’ve experienced with an innovative learning model – and how they’ve overcome them – with educators from other institutions at a symposium at the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences currently underway at the University of Victoria.

“We wanted to highlight our model and spread the word about how effective it can be, and also share the challenges that you’ll face when you’re trying to be a pioneer in this area,” says Walinga, one of the presenters at the symposium, From Barriers to Breakthroughs: Wrestling with the Challenges of Living an Innovative Learning Model. The symposium marks the first time the faculty’s program heads have come together to work on a presentation.

Some of the challenges the Royal Roads community has faced include recruiting faculty who come from a traditional academic background and may not feel the model is a fit and working with students who are likewise used to traditional universities.  

Along with Walinga, program heads from the schools of Environment and Sustainability, Leadership and Peace and Conflict Management have each tackled a particular issue, which the team will bring together at the symposium. Topics include the experiences of new and experienced faculty in making meaning of and applying the principles of the RRU learning and teaching model in their teaching practice and how faculty and students experience and resolve conflicts between standard and transformative teaching and learning models.

“I’m sure we’ll have a good discussion about these concepts and the evolution of the academic structures and formats,” Walinga says. “I think we’ll have a great talk about what it’s like to instruct within these environments and the more general demand to reconcile your personal culture with an organizational culture, which is what it really comes down to.”

Now in its 82nd year, Congress brings together academics, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners to share findings, refine ideas and build partnerships. Congress, hosted by the University of Victoria and co-sponsored by Royal Roads, is home to nearly 70 scholarly association meetings and attracts an average of 6,000 attendees. More than 30 Royal Roads faculty members and staff are presenting.

The Storytellers

Three Royal Roads students will be attending Congress as winners of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Research for a Better Life: The Storytellers contest. Each student produced a three-minute video featuring research that’s happening at RRU.

MA in Intercultural and International Communication student Brett Blair produced a video on Prof. Robin Cox’s research on child-centered disaster recovery in Canada and the U.S., while the other two winners showcased their own research. Doctor of Social Sciences student Cheryl Heykoop offers a glimpse into her work exploring meaningful child engagement methods for post-conflict truth-telling with children in northern Uganda. MA in Environmental Education and Communication student Roberta Laurie’s video highlights her research on the ethical oil movement, including its influence on and framing by Canadian media.

Watch the students' videos here.