Building Brock University’s Experiential Education definitions

Madelyn P. Law, Associate Professor, Department of Health Sciences & Faculty Associate, Service Learning

Sandy Howe, Associate Director, Experiential Education
Anna Lathrop, Vice Provost, Teaching, Learning and Student Success
Cara Boese, Director, Co-Op, Career and Experiential Education
Jill Grose, Director, Centre for Pedagogical Innovation


Brock University has a strong tradition in experiential education opportunities for students.  There has been a growing interest from faculty on ways to incorporate new experiential education in to their courses as well as how to improve and grow existing experiences.

The goal of our initiative was to build and adopt a set of experiential education definitions together with the Brock community that could be used for tracking and measuring experiential education campus-wide.  This set of definitions will help leaders, faculty and staff to understand, report on and further develop high quality experiential education for Brock students.  To this end, we embarked on a collaborative, consultative and campus-wide process to develop and gain insight in to these definitions.

The process

This process was driven by stakeholder engagement to ensure that the definitions reflected the local Brock context while also being guided by best practices and research literature.  In order to ensure that there was a collective engagement that would be representative of the Brock University faculty and staff, we conducted numerous open, targeted and invited sessions to gather input on the definitions.

STEP 1: Committee of Academic Deans Presentation

In March 2016, Cara Bose, the Director, Co-op, Career & Experiential Education began the process by taking existing definitions from the University of Victoria to the Committee of Academic Deans (CAD), who, with consensus, supported the use of these definitions as a starting point for Brock.

Step 2: Service-Learning Advisory Committee Planning

The Service-Learning Advisory Committee updated the definitions to align more closely with Brock’s experiential course offerings and Strategic Mandate Agreement. This group also discussed and approved the plan for the consultation with the Brock University community.

Step 3: Engagement Sessions with Brock Community

Dr. Madelyn Law and Sandy Howe coordinated structured focus group sessions with the goal of gaining insights, perspectives and examples on the set of experiential education definitions for Brock.  The focus of these sessions was to engage key stakeholders and build consensus on terminology and descriptions.

The following groups were consulted in this process:

  • Associate Deans & Faculty Representatives
  • Experiential Staff & Academic Advisors
  • Open Session for Brock Faculty and Staff
  • Graduate and Undergraduate Students

In the focus groups each person was given the most updated version of the definitions at the start of the session in the form of a booklet to which they were able to follow the presentation and discussion.  Participants were given time to review the definitions independently.  Then a group discussion was facilitated with two minutes allotted to discuss each definition.  Participants were also asked to provide written comments of points not captured in the discussion and, if possible, to give examples of courses where these experiential education activities were occurring in their Faculty.  The booklets were collected and the feedback compiled and referenced in order to update and refine the definitions after each session.  This snowball technique allowed for a rigorous and comprehensive approach to the development of the definitions grounded in the Brock University context.

Step 4: Targeted Engagement

Once the robust definitions were created, the document was then discussed and the language further refined through meetings with the following groups:

  • Faculty of Graduate Studies
  • Teaching and Learning Policy Committee

Step 5: Final Request for Input – Brock Community

Once these consultative steps were completed a final request for feedback was sent out from VP, Academic to all faculty and staff.  This elicited 30 responses for small wording changes that further enhanced the definitions.

Step 6: Final Approvals

The definitions were then presented to three committees of Senate, namely Graduate Council Committee, Undergraduate Student Affairs, and Teaching and Learning Policy Committee, where key questions and points of clarification were made regarding the importance, intent and next steps.  At this point, the Teaching and Learning Policy Committee then referred the document to Senate.

Step 7: Senate Approval

In December 2016, Brock University Senate then voted to adopt the experiential education definitions.

Next Steps

We are currently aligning our IT systems to streamline the input and collection of courses which incorporate experiential education.  As well, these definitions are enabling faculty to further understand various types of experiential education and examples of how each has been embedded in areas across Brock.  The definitions have opened the door to conversations about experiential education and further stimulated innovation in current course design and delivery.

A Note on the Process

Although this process does appear to be lengthy, the rewards of engagement cannot be understated.  Ensuring that we engaged those who would be most affected by this set of definitions was essential to maintain momentum for experiential education at Brock.  Through this active engagement we were able to help individuals understand experiential education and help to foster connections across campus.  We also provided a space for individuals to reflect, understand and advance their thinking on the type of experiential education they were engaged in and how this aligned to Brock overarching strategic plan.


For more information, please contact Sandy Howe