Hybrid learning helps mature students reach education goals


Being a part-time mature student and taking courses during the spring/summer - either to complement or expedite her degree - is a necessity for Renata DiCienzo.

When she took a five-day vacation from her job at the casino last spring, Renata DiCienzo didn’t cash in with a trip to the tropics or put her feet up for the week.

Instead, the 43-year-old single mom from Niagara Falls spent eight hours a day for five days taking a spring/summer course at Brock: “The Art of the Clown Doctor” (DART 3V91).

“It was just a different kind of learning, in regards to time span,” DiCienzo said. “It didn’t matter that it was only a week long, I learned a lot from that course, unbelievable exercises just for creative outlets and things I would never have been able to be exposed to.”

DiCienzo’s day job may be at the casino, but she has been working for eight years toward a Brock University degree in public health.

She hopes to complete her degree in two or three years. Being a part-time mature student and taking courses during the spring/summer – either to complement or expedite her degree – is a necessity for DiCienzo, who would like to one day earn her master’s in public health.

DiCienzo is taking a full credit community engagement course this spring, which includes one week in the classroom and another in the community.

“They help immensely because they’re condensed courses,” she said. “For instance, the five-day (clown doctor) course I got a half credit and I didn’t (suffer) any lack of learning or anything … so I was able to work through my employer. It’s really important because it’s hard to manage your family life.

“So, if spring and summer can condense and make my life easier, maybe I can do other things, so that’s important.”

Under the guidance of renowned clown doctor Bernie Warren, a professor at the University of Windsor’s School of Dramatic Arts, DiCienzo built an alter ego that captured her youthful spirit – part artsy, part rocker, and always fun loving.

“When you’re a clown doctor you can be whatever you want to be, and you’re trying to change attitudes about illness and even death.”

The Art of the Clown Doctor course will be offered again this spring in an accelerated format.

Additionally, DiCienzo is taking an online women’s studies course that will add another half-credit.

The mix of in-class, hybrid and online courses has allowed DiCienzo to chase a dream while raising her seven-year-old son.

“I totally encourage it,” she said. “There’s a lot of hurdles to get over. Someone like me who is a first-generation university student … a lot of people like me need a lot of resources.

“There are so many different ways to learn, not just the traditional classroom.”

Registration is open for spring/summer courses at Brock, and demand continues to grow as the University expands its offerings for both students and community members who wish to begin, continue or extend their education.

“(Spring/summer courses) provide students the opportunity to pick up credits that perhaps they’d either not done well in (during Fall or Winter courses), or, to get a head start on the next term,” Lathrop said.

Last year, Brock noted a 17 per cent increase in spring/summer enrollments from the year previous. Lathrop anticipates another 15 per cent increase in 2014.

A full list of spring/summer courses is online.

Other Spring/Summer stories:

  • Expanded spring/summer term offers many diverse courses
  • The President takes his hand to teaching an online course
  • Condensed Spring/Summer courses pack pedagogical punch
  • Course aims to bridge health-care gap for youth with disabilities
  • Hockey course offers snapshot of Canadian culture

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