Two Renison instructional staff members recognized for their work in advancing experiential learning practices in intercultural education

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Logo for Wharton QS Stars SEI Centre Reimagine Education Awards 2015​Renison University College’s Keely Cook, assistant director of the Bridge to Academic Success in English (BASE) program, and Emiko Yoshida, instructor of psychology with the Social Development Studies (SDS) program, have been shortlisted for the 2015 QS-Wharton Stars Reimagine Education Awards for their joint project, “Facilitating cultural integration and reflective learning through intercultural collaboration.” The awards, which have been dubbed the “Oscars of Higher Education Innovation,” recognize new and innovative approaches in the field of post-secondary education.  Out of the finalists that have been shortlisted, one overall winner will be selected to receive an award of $50,000 (USD) to further fund their work.

When asked how they felt about being shortlisted for such a prestigious award, Cook and Yoshida said they were shocked. “When we initially saw the field of entrants for the Awards from past years, we felt our project may not have had the same scope to be entered,” says Cook.  “However, Mario Coniglio, associate vice-president, academic, at the University of Waterloo encouraged us to apply, as our project investigates the potential of enhancing students’ education by facilitating opportunities for experiential learning and interdisciplinary discourse.”

The project started from the observation that Canadian and international students of various cultures had limited interaction on campus, both inside and outside the classroom. “People often exaggerate or oversimplify the differences between themselves and someone of another culture,” says Yoshida. “Students will naturally interact more with someone of the same culture as it is more comfortable.” 

The challenge was to work collaboratively to design experiential learning assignments where Canadian and international students would be able to have meaningful interactions with each other and work towards overcoming any natural discomforts or hesitations involved in communicating with someone from a different culture. Cook and Yoshida hoped that their respective student groups would be able to learn something from each other through a series of conversations with their international or Canadian partner.  After their conversations, students would reflect and then record what they learnt from one another in ePortfolios. Cross-cultural psychology students were able to apply psychological theory to their real-life interactions with an international student, while BASE program students were given the opportunity to both practise conversational English with a Canadian partner, and to see their partner successfully model academic success at a Canadian post-secondary institution.

Although the project is still underway, the results to date have been encouraging. Not only have both groups of students been able to enrich their learning experiences at Renison, they have also had the opportunity to develop something that Cook and Yoshida did not necessarily anticipate: friendships. As one student remarked, “Although we have many differences, we found that we are so similar…we love and feel loved. We feel sad when we meet something disappointing, and we feel happy when exciting things come to us.” As Cook notes, these positive outcomes wouldn’t have been possible without the active engagement - through the facilitation of partner-matching and required reflective assignments - of the instructors. It is this innovative, experiential approach to cross-cultural pedagogy that has made Cook and Yoshida’s project a standout in the field of nominees for the 2015 QS-Wharton Stars Reimagine Education Awards.

The awards ceremony will take place at the 2015 Reimagine Education Conference, held December 7th-9th in Philadelphia. Cook and Yoshida will deliver a “pitch” presentation for their project during the conference, and will also be exploring future opportunities for the potential of module-based, scalable applications of the intercultural education experiences they have designed together. The Renison community wishes both researchers the best of luck at the conference.

About the Renison English Language Institute

The Renison English Language Institute (Renison ELI) has offered high quality English as a second language (ESL) programs and courses since 1970. We welcome more than 1000 students each year to Renison University College.

We are also proud to be the official ESL provider of the University of Waterloo, ranked Canada’s most innovative university for 22 years in a row.

Housed within Renison ELI are the English Language Centre (ELC) and English Language Studies (ELS). We invite you to explore our programs and courses, and look forward to welcoming you to the Renison community. 

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