U of T must fill in the gaps in its experiential learning programs

Access to work-integrated education is crucial

U of T must fill in the gaps in its experiential learning programs

At a panel discussion held at George Brown College Chef School on July 25, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, MP Navdeep Bains, delivered the details of the government’s plan to invest $17 million toward the Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHER). With the investment, the intention of which was to support experiential learning in universities, the Government of Canada has ensured that by 2029 “every young Canadian who wants a work-integrated learning opportunity can get one.”

Experiential learning, or work-integrated learning (WIL), such as co-op programs, internships, work-study programs, study abroad programs, or work placements, can be instrumental in helping students decide on future career paths. Providing students with a strong understanding of life in the workforce is imperative, which is why U of T must make a greater effort to provide its students with better WIL opportunities.

WIL focuses on helping students develop and acquire practical skills and work experience in their field before graduation. Helping students find a job in their field of study after graduation is essential.
U of T President Meric Gertler also spoke after the panel discussion, insisting that it is essential for U of T to expand its experiential learning opportunities, stating “we hear this every day from our students… they want this.”

U of T currently offers a variety of WIL opportunities for students. However, a closer look at these program offerings reveals that they may not be as equally accessible for everyone as one may hope.

Vicky Vo is a fourth-year student studying at UTSC who has taken both a co-op at UTSC and a work-study at UTSG as part of her degree in Neuroscience, French, and Biology. According to students like Vo, when it comes to gaining the right kind of hands-on experience for a future career, co-op is a better option for WIL than work-study.

“The co-op program at UTSC is the ultimate feature that made me choose the Scarborough campus over the St. George one, despite it being three times the commute time,” wrote Vo. “The biggest difference with my co-op experience was that I was not only able to gain new experience in a new field and work on my skills, I was also able to expand on my role, do many different tasks, and hold many different responsibilities.”

UTSG incorporates WIL in the form of internships, first-year programs, and work-study programs, which are offered to all students. However, UTSG has a limited amount of co-op opportunities, which means that students who attend UTSG are bereft of WIL opportunities that give additional “real life” work experience.

“Work-study is a good program, but I feel that it doesn’t give the intense experience of working outside the university,” wrote Oliver Phan, a fourth-year student studying computer science at UTSG. Phan took a work-study job over the summer. “I definitely think expanding co-op programs at UTSG would benefit students.

Getting caught up in only your studies is too easy at this campus (in any program) and I see it happen to a lot of my peers.”

Unfortunately, the majority of WIL opportunities at UTSG that offer students an “intense” off-campus, paid work experience, such as co-ops, are focused towards students in STEM programs. Students in the humanities or social sciences are offered opportunities to do work-study, internships, and other first-year programs to get a sense of what working in their field looks like. Most of these experiences are unpaid.

According to reports done over the past year by the Conference Board of Canada, students in the humanities are in the greatest need for WIL programs that teach students to apply their skills in a real work environment. It is becoming increasingly difficult for humanities students to find anything higher than an entry-level job after graduation.

However, the difficulty with co-op programs is the cost, which may deter many students from applying. Domestic students at UTSC taking co-op pay an additional $461 to $572 per semester if they apply in first year. Second-year applicants pay a higher price, and international students pay even more, up to $1,012 per semester.

The fees pay for classes, networking events, and job monitoring. Despite this, there are still students that end up with low-paying jobs, and therefore do not receive as much monetary return.

“It is a tedious cost, as the co-op courses that prepare you for your work term don’t really equate to that cost, when comparing to the quality of education you get for subject courses. It only kind of pays off when you’re actually working and you make money, but each job pays differently,” wrote Vo.

Another form of experiential learning that can be expanded upon is the Professional Experience Year (PEY), administered by the Engineering Career Centre at UTSG. PEY offers Engineering and Computer Science students the opportunity to experience 12 to 16 months of paid full-time work in their area of study after their second or third year.

One benefit of the program is that students don’t have to switch between study and work during the semester — a drawback of work-study — and the payback for the $975 tuition fee is comparably higher. Students in PEY in the 2018–2019 year earned an average of $49,308.42.

Another attribute of PEY is the range of locations in which jobs are offered, from Alberta to Belgium. This decreases competitiveness and expands job opportunities, which was highlighted in the BHER meeting as an essential mandate moving forward.

The PEY program has already expanded to include computer science students, showing promising results. Perhaps if the PEY program collaborated with other employers outside of STEM disciplines, U of T could offer all students the type of WIL they’ve been asking for.

In the modern, fast-paced technological age, students find WIL to be an increasingly crucial part of their university degree. But improving WIL is not just a matter of ensuring that every student gets access to a WIL opportunity. Effective WIL means that opportunities on every level of experience — in-class, research, off-campus, and commission-based — are integrated into a student’s learning experience, in a cost-effective, efficient manner, no matter the field of study.

In a world that is also rapidly expanding, across every discipline, it is essential that any student can access the tools that will help them contribute to the workforce, before real-life opportunities pass by.

Toryanse Blanchard is a second-year English, Environmental Biology, and Book and Media Studies student at New College.

Why ban technology?

In response to “Why we are weaning our students from electronic noise”

Why ban technology?

A couple of weeks ago, an article written by two University of Toronto professors of political science was published in the Globe and Mail. The two professors explained the reasoning behind their decision to ban all electronic devices from their classrooms, arguing that doing so results in a distraction-free environment that is more conducive to learning.

In response, we asked students to weigh in on whether removing technology from classrooms is truly correlated with a more meaningful learning experience.


Taking notes on a laptop is actually much more effective than taking notes on paper. Admittedly, students retain more if they write by hand because it contributes to muscle memory. However, in lecture settings, students are always trying to remember what the professor is saying as they write. In my opinion, handwriting becomes difficult because both processes overload your senses to the point where you can’t remember what the professor is saying halfway as you write it out. With a laptop, you can focus your mind on the lecture, and directly copy it with effortless keystrokes.

– Remi Hossain, third-year Political Science and Criminology student

Accessibility is briefly addressed in Balot and Orwin’s piece, but only as an afterthought. While perusing the article’s online comment section on the Globe and Mail’s website, I found dozens of hateful comments supporting the authors’ neglect of some students’ needs. This was truly disheartening. Balot and Orwin’s attitude reflects society’s problem of questioning the legitimacy of accessibility needs. If these professors are interested in students getting the best learning experience from class, why is this limited to able-bodied/able-minded individuals? Isolating students with unique needs is not productive, and they are only reinforcing the hesitancy towards asking for help that these students experience.

– Elspeth Arbow, fourth-year Cinema Studies and Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health Studies student

I believe that this electronics ban policy is motivated by the same frustration that causes just about every professor I know to be bothered by laptops in class. The prof spends time planning and preparing lectures, yet the students who attend class are likely browsing Netflix, Facebook, or Twitter instead of listening and absorbing the material.

That said, it is unreasonable and outdated to ban the use of all technology in a learning environment. The considerate and tactful thing that should have been done in this situation was to make a negotiation. Instead of having TAs patrol the aisles for students sneaking a look at their phones, why not simply allow laptops, with TAs monitoring screens to avoid the unproductive use of these devices? Since this may be more difficult to do in a tutorial environment, an electronics ban may be limited to tutorials, because this a discussion-based environment in which little rigorous note-taking is required. It is hard to imagine how two political science professors did not at least make the effort to negotiate a policy that is fair, and accommodates both students and professors.

Marina Bozic, second-year Political Science student

When cellphones, laptops, and tablets are framed as “electronic noise,” technology can be easily construed as a barrier to communication. A technology ban is most conducive within smaller, seminar-style classes in which discussion is central to how the course is taught. Such classes require a two-way form of communication, in which students are active contributors to the lesson, and not just passive recipients of information. This active style of learning enables students to better synthesize, record, and retain information. In this setting, the absence of technology bolsters students’ engagement with professors, peers, and material by preventing them from hiding behind a screen.

– Zara Narain, second-year Ethics, Society, and Law student

In my experience, technology bans allow for a greater understanding and engagement with the material. However, an important thing to note is that these bans will not work in all classroom settings; smaller seminar courses and lectures that focus on the rigorous study of texts and complex analyses benefit most from this policy. Moreover, when professors no longer have laptops and phones to compete with, it means that they need to perform at a much higher level, and must deliver quality lectures that can catch a student’s attention for two to three hours at a time. Professors who embrace this new teaching policy should be ready to rise to these higher expectations.

– Ramsha Naveed, second-year Political Science and Philosophy student

The move to ban all electronics from the classroom is the failure of these professors to understand and adapt to an ever-changing learning environment. This almost guarantees that students who aren’t familiar with this style of learning will do worse than those who are. Rather than embrace new ways of teaching a perpetually connected generation, they’ve hunkered down to the past, and insist upon forcing students who have otherwise had the freedom to learn as they choose to adapt to a form of learning that may not be familiar to or effective for them.

– Ross Johnston, second-year Political Science student

Learning from home

When travel is out of the question, alternative learning experiences abound

Learning from home

With summer holidays well underway, travel plans remain a popular topic of conversation. Travel is widely perceived as being an avenue toward personal development; it opens us up to various new experiences, people, cultures, customs, and traditions. Apart from being the fountainhead to broadening our perspectives of the world, travel also enables us to escape from the quotidian humdrum of life as we immerse ourselves in foreign situations on foreign soils. Whether it is to a busy city, or a more secluded destination, travelling can stimulate or relax the mind, allowing it to thrum with more ideas or to achieve a state of clarity.

In the excitement that resides within the cliché of “to travel is to live,” one must, however, not forget that there is more to travelling than the rosy picture often painted by society. From the barriers to travelling, which include its cost, to the opportunity cost of exploring certain cultures and places instead of others, travelling often comes at a price.

The monetary cost of travel often presents a major barrier to students. Not everyone has enough money to support themselves while travelling, or has the choice to allocate funds to travelling expenses. For most, travel is a luxury and therefore is prioritized well behind necessities like food, housing, education, and healthcare, as well as accumulating savings. This barrier may especially apply to students and young adults fresh to the job market, who are looking to create savings and therefore might not have the means to spending money.

For individuals who are unwilling or unable to invest, a lack of travel should not be seen as limiting one’s personal development. There are various alternative learning experiences that can mould individuals, including internships and volunteer work in one’s own community. Not only can such prospects save on travelling expenses, but they may also offer an opportunity to earn money — all while exploring the depths of one’s own community.

[pullquote-default]For individuals who are unwilling or unable to invest, a lack of travel should not be seen as limiting one’s personal development.[/pullquote-default]

Literature, travel books, magazines, and travel programs on T.V. or online can also be substitutes to travel, by giving a glimpse into things that are outside of your known world. Not only are these alternatives cheaper, but their consumption can also turn into a daily educational and recreational habit that is less time-consuming and non-committal.

Contrary to popular belief, books can sometimes provide more in-depth exposure into cultures than travelling might. Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies that focus on the connection between creativity and international travel, finds that neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, and are therefore sensitive to change. Foreign experiences – which include exposure to new sounds, smells, languages, tastes, sensations, and sights – can spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.

Merely travelling abroad, however, does not always produce these effects. Instead, according to Galinksy, what travelling accomplishes is “multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation.” This is akin to the famous observation penned by Marcel Proust, the French novelist: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”

This is important to consider, given that, more often than not, travelling itself does not necessarily involve extensive multicultural engagements, nor does it offer deep immersion into a foreign community at short intervals. Therefore, when not done right, the experience can become more costly than culturally enriching.

[pullquote-features]Akin to the infamous observation penned by Marcel Proust, the French novelist, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”[/pullquote-features]

Apart from falling short of educating us about a culture foreign to us, travelling can also take its toll on how we interact with the cultures that surround us daily. Often, amidst the avidity to explore other countries, cultures, and ways of life, many individuals tend to overlook their own communities as places worthy of discovery and exploration. They may perceive more distant countries as being more exotic compared to their own seemingly familiar surroundings, which are consequently taken for granted.

It is crucial, however, for one to explore and understand their immediate community before attempting to venture further, as ignorance towards one’s own community could lead to the loss of cultural identity among present as well as future generations.

This is especially important to consider in a world where geographical separation is becoming less consequential. With increased migration, international trade, the Internet, and various social media and networking platforms, interactions between people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds are taking place — constantly exposing individuals to new cultures. But this also makes it easier for individuals to forget to explore the cultural landscape of their local surroundings.

Undoubtedly, from a different perspective, travel can meet the increasing need for cultural awareness and sensitivity, especially in urban centres. None of this is to say that travelling cannot be in and of itself an educational and fulfilling endeavour. To get the most out of an experience abroad, however, it is crucial for people to fully immerse themselves in foreign cultures. This includes learning the local language, interacting with locals, eating local foods, commuting using local transportation systems, and sundry other things that involve stepping out of one’s comfort zone and living like the locals do. By doing this, we not only discover other cultures, but also have something to compare our own cultures and experiences to. Travelling should not simply mean ‘to go abroad’; rather, it should be about following the world’s map in a conscious and educated way – to help create the map to oneself.

When it is not possible to physically transport yourself to a new place, know that there are alternatives to travel that can be equally fulfilling. The importance of such experiences cannot be understated, whether or not they require you to pack your bags.

Perlyn Cooper is a second-year student at Victoria College studying English and philosophy.