Experiential Learning: Motivation, Personal Growth, and Teamwork

Dorothy Ng - WL BioChange Lab student Dorothy Ng is a third year student studying Political Science and Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Simon Fraser University who likes to read plot summaries on Wikipedia before watching movies. Some items on her bucket list include giving a TEDx talk, going bungee jumping, building a business, and eating a steak with her hands.  She can usually be found looking for the “homiest” coffee shops around town, strolling along the Seawall, or napping on transit.
As a third year student, I’ve enrolled in a variety of classes from different disciplines, each with their own perks and quirks. However, I’ve noticed that from Political Science to Statistics, the courses are structured in a similar manner: you go to class, submit assignments, write an exam or two, and get a grade based on that. You put in a fair amount of effort so you can get a good grade, regardless of whether or not you are interested in the class. Instead of keeping up with your readings throughout the term, you cram two days before the midterm and five days before the final. Why is this the case? Can it be changed?
I never noticed how disengaged I was in some of my classes until I enrolled in Change Lab in Fall 2015 and compared the two experiences. Change Lab is an all-day studio course that fuses environmental sustainability and innovation that challenges you to design a venture within four months. This is an experiential learning experience and, believe me, it is so different from the traditional classroom experience.
Let me tell you why.

  1. There is a mutual sense of motivation within the class

As students must complete an application to enrol in Change Lab, all of my classmates have an interest in sustainability and innovation. We are all bonded by a common interest and a desire to make a difference, whether it’s big or small. This is motivation that goes beyond a letter grade or a 4.0 CGPA—the frequent focus in traditional learning—and it allows us to create an impact within the community.

  1. Change Lab focuses on personal growth

Although Shawn and Heather are our instructors, they serve as facilitators instead. As the class involves a lot of self-directed learning, we are expected to actively seek answers to questions we have. We also have one-on-one check-ins with a facilitator at the start, middle, and end of the term. This allows us to discuss our experience so far and to receive feedback regarding our performance in the course. This differs from traditional learning as we do not usually have opportunities to sit down with the instructor for personal development sessions.

  1. Teamwork is a fundamental part of the experience 

The capstone component of Change Lab gives students the opportunity to identify a problem within the False Creek Flats, to conduct research, to prototype and test solutions, and to develop a business model. As you would imagine, this is a process that would be impossible for one person to complete on their own. Even if they were a super human, it would be challenging for them to acquire all of the skills necessary. I am a member of Team Birdhouse, which  consists of two Communications students, two students from the School of Interactive Art and Design, and myself, a Political Science and Entrepreneurship student. As an interdisciplinary team, we have the skills needed to build and to design a mobile application, to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy, and to ensure that our business model is sustainable. This would not be possible without our different backgrounds.
If I had to describe my Change Lab experience so far in one word, I would choose “eye-opening.” I’ve had the opportunity to learn about sustainable innovation and environmental issues within the False Creek Flats, to reflect upon who I am as a change-maker, and the privilege to spend time with 29 other passionate students on a weekly basis.
“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” – Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance.
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