Experiential Education Faculty Champion leverages power of reflection

Michael Ripmeester likes to get his boots muddy.

“It’s a long tradition in Geography,” says the Brock Professor in the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies. “The famous geographer Carl Sauer referred to a preference for what he called ‘muddy boots’ geography, a preference to get out and be in the field.”

It was with that concept in mind that Ripmeester took on the role as the Faculty of Social Sciences’ first Experiential Education Faculty Champion.

He jumped on the opportunity to help fellow faculty members develop experiential education (EE) opportunities in their courses in part because of his own path in broadening his understanding of EE with support from Co-op, Career and Experiential Education (CCEE) and resources on reflection available from the from Brock’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation.

When he began exploring ways to deepen the field experiences of his students, Ripmeester found that building in components of academic reflection, even when EE opportunities are limited, makes learning personal, helping students make meaning in new and unexpected ways.

“Having students experience in the field the things that they learn about in the classroom is great,” he says. “But having them then reflect on it can not only augment what they’re learning in class but also challenge their beliefs about how the world works as they think about systems and processes and their own world views — students have shared with me that it can be transformative for them.”

While teaching a field course in Vancouver last year, Ripmeester added a reflective component to the field notebooks that students were required to keep and quickly observed students pulling together many different threads.

“During the day, once we were finished with our fieldwork, students would spend time writing and reflecting on questions like, what sort of challenges do I see and what kind of solutions can I offer?” he says. “In discussion, students would bring up the kinds of things they were reflecting on — really interesting things that drew on courses they had taken in geography but also in economics, business and health sciences.”

He says that opportunities for EE are growing, and he applauds Dean Ingrid Makus in the Faculty of Social Sciences for financially supporting field experiences. His ultimate goal as a Faculty Champion is to help make all EE more accessible to students who face barriers to participation.

“We’ve got to be thinking about ways in which educational experiences are inclusive so that we’re not leaving anyone out,” says Ripmeester, who is more than halfway through his term in the Champion role. “If we really think that experiential education is worthwhile, we’ve got to make sure it’s worthwhile for everyone.”

Jessie Fehrman, Experiential Education Co-ordinator for the Faculties of Social Sciences and Education, says the inaugural year of the initiative has been an excellent opportunity to showcase the ways that faculty members engage students with EE.

“Each Faculty Champion has worked to share their experience and success implementing experiential education with other instructors, and Michael has been a brilliant example of this,” she says. “Not only has he worked to offer students engaging and practical experiences in his courses, but he has also consistently worked to support other instructors in the Faculty of Social Sciences to do the same.”

Fehrman adds that the Faculty Champion program, which launched in September 2022, will soon be gearing up to recruit next year’s cohort of faculty members.

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