Augustana's innovative three-week courses: an inside look

Over 2017/18, the University of Alberta's Augustana campus introduced a new class schedule that allowed students to take block courses that offered experiential learning opportunities.

Tia Lalani - 27 April 2018

As the semester draws to a close, the opportunity to reflect over the last year becomes greater. With the implementation of the New Calendar and First Year Seminar, there's been a whirlwind of new experiences, challenges and learning opportunities on our campus.

Introducing a new calendar has allowed an increase in experiential learning opportunities, one of the main goals of the program. Over the last year, students have participated in field trips, have had guest speakers and lecturers and have learned more in a three-week period than they might have ever thought possible.

These changes have not come without their share of challenges. Some have expressed concerns regarding which types of courses best fit within a three-week format, while others have found the workload to be too heavy or have had difficulty adjusting to the new rhythms. While any new endeavour is bound to have its bumps in the road, Augustana is committed to gathering feedback in order to ensure continuous quality improvement. Multiple groups are in place to collect and analyze feedback from both students and faculty, with leadership coming from the Augustana Students' Association and a faculty team headed by professor Lars Hallstrom.

In the First Year Seminar courses, our students were challenged to be active participants and to work on reading, writing and library skills. The results were impressive, and it was exciting to see students meet the common learning objectives while engaging with such a broad range of topics.

Numerous faculty, staff and community members expressed a desire to go back to school and enrol in some of the block courses we offered this year, ranging from studying Harry Potter to researching environmental topics at the Miquelon Lake Research Station. We're pleased here to provide you with an inside look at some of the courses offered within the new calendar.

First-Year Seminar Courses

Students hiked through Crimson Lake Provincial Park to get first hand experience with the concept of wilderness.

Fantastic Cryptids and Where to Find Them

Professor Daniel Sims' course was centered on Cryptozoology, a widely considered pseudoscience focused on creatures ranging from the Loch Ness Monster to the Sasquatch, for which there is a paucity of empirical evidence. Students in this class were provided with an opportunity to discover the difference between scientific and pseudoscientific methods while examining folklore, oral tellings and popular culture.

The course included a field trip to the Crimson Lake area where students interacted with concepts of wilderness, something that would later inform their final project: a B-movie featuring one of the cryptids they had studied throughout the course. Students also completed an individual research project on the cryptid of their choice, discussing the creature's history, sightings, impact on popular culture and factual evidence pointing to its existence or nonexistence, followed by a debate in front of the rest of the class.

Students came away from this course with more than just the knowledge that Bigfoot doesn't exist. Aside from writing, directing, acting in and filming their own concepts brought to the screen (a showing was offered to the rest of the campus community on a projector screen in the Lougheed Performing Arts Centre), the research presentations and oral debate gave them a taste of third and fourth year seminar courses, where the ability to present concise arguments, think critically about the information offered and counter another's opinion in a respectful manner is a must. Plus, they got to study outdoors.

Wolves! Representations and Realities

A trainer feeding a wolfdog at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Mark Fulton.

A prominent figure in literature, legends, visual art, film and popular culture, wolves serve as a source of inspiration and fascination among many. Students in Professor Ingrid Urberg's class had the opportunity to explore representations of wolves and take into consideration the environmental and ethical concerns surrounding these creatures today. They were able to get up close and personal with these animals during a trip to Yamnuska, Alberta's only wolfdog sanctuary, and also had the opportunity to simulate a World Wolf Forum, in which students represented different groups with an interest in the animals (conservationists, wolf sanctuary representatives, hunters and farmers) and presented arguments on their behalves, followed by a roundtable discussion.

Students praised the field trip for allowing them to interact with the animals, making the subject matter and history that they had studied in class more relatable. One student, Jewel, said "Watching the wolfdogs howling and eating big hunks of meat really allowed me to appreciate the ethical issues related to these animals that we discussed in class."

They also noticed their writing skills improving over the short three-week period, and appreciated that everyone got a chance to speak up during class discussions. Matthew, a senior student working as a mentor in the seminar, was impressed by how engaged the group was and benefitted himself from getting some TA experience while still an undergraduate student.

Tara Vanderwal from Route 13 Tattoo Shop tattooing Professor Roxanne Harde during her First Year Seminar course.

Reading the Body, Writing the Body

What does it mean-and what has it meant-to have a body? In her course, Professor Roxanne Harde asked this question of her students, allowing them to actively think about their own bodies, as well as how bodies have been represented throughout history and how they are presented in today's contemporary society. Students engaged with novels, short stories, film, paintings, photographs and other media to discuss the body from a multitude of perspectives.

Student mentor Dani VanDusen explaining the meaning behind her tattoos to Professor Roxanne Harde's First Year Seminar on "reading the body, writing the body".

Other FYS and Augustana professors acted as guest speakers, bringing their specialities-the science of the body, the athletic body (especially as it relates to gender), and the decaying body (a nod to the popularity of zombies, on which another FYS course, "Seminar of the Living Dead", was focused)-to the students in Harde's class. Along with discussion, students had the opportunity to take part in yoga and bowling and to use Augustana's climbing wall to put their own bodies in action.

Professor Harde also focused a class on the practice of tattooing, going so far as to get an actual tattoo in front of the class. This slightly unorthodox experience actively engaged the students-discussions of self-expression, the varying degrees of cultural and social acceptance of tattooing, kinds of inks and patterns used, tattoo cover-ups and conversations about the body as a canvas were just a few of the topics the class considered.


A look into Augustana's innovative three-week courses (continued)