When biology professor Colin Montpetit of the Faculty of Science first heard about the Community Service Learning (CSL) program offered through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, he saw an opportunity to introduce his students to the scientific community. Last winter, he integrated CSL for the first time into his genetics course (BIO2133) to provide his students with an alternative way of reflecting on the course’s learning objectives. Professor Montpetit’s teaching philosophy is to bring active learning into the classroom: he assesses student progress towards learning goals, and taps into the diversity of his students and the course to enrich the educational experience for students and teacher alike. “The CSL program is a way for me to provide my students with an educational environment that fosters intellectual and personal development within the community and is a way to offer learning opportunities that can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom setting.” For many of his students, the CSL program provided early research and applied biology experiences, which most Department of Biology students only take part in during the fourth year of their programs.
Professor Montpetit was keen to integrate CSL into his large, 600-student course. The program exceeded his expectations and was very popular: 25 students selected placements, which included positions as a neuroscience research assistant at The Ottawa Hospital and as a bat conservation volunteer with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. “This program gives any student a chance to connect with organizations that are part of the scientific community, as well as a way to build their network and advance their future career goals.” In fact, CSL allowed them to not only interact with, but also contribute directly to, the scientific community. “When speaking of the ‘community’, it isn’t necessarily just the social community, it also includes the scientific community. In the case of this course, the community included lab and research environments, as well as educational groups, such as Let’s Talk Science!”
The CSL option improved the students’ awareness of their own thought processes and their communication skills, which was apparent in their self-reflection assignments. “It was enlightening to learn about each of the students’ placements. I was able to connect with them a little more and they were able to bring in their different perspectives as individuals, which enhanced their CSL experience.” The students submitted creative blogs, with some creating special posters, videos and websites. This allowed the students to communicate their results in a different format and gave Professor Montpetit a chance to hear his students speak, in their own voice, about the various outcomes of their placements and what they had learned.
Professor Montpetit is already planning to integrate CSL into his next winter term course. “For any professor out there who is considering integrating the CSL program into their class… just do it! Contact the Centre, have a chat with them; they will answer all your questions and are very open and flexible. If you don’t know how CSL fits into your class, the Centre can help you with that. I came into the CSL program having my own thoughts and ideas, and left realizing that the program is adaptive and is a different experience for everyone.” Professors interested in exploring how to integrate the CSL program can contact us.
By: Rougui Bah