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Experiential learning is woven into every program and course at Fanshawe College. Students get a chance to tackle real-world challenges and are pictured here in a meeting to discuss a client project with a local business.

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When construction starts in early 2020, Fanshawe College’s Innovation Village in London, Ontario, will form a new kind of community – a flexible resource hub where students, educators and community leaders can converge and create. The new facility is designed to catalyze collaboration, disrupt norms, solve business problems and grow economies.

For students, the new facility will take Fanshawe’s learning approach – a focus on experiential learning to smooth transitions between education and employment – to an even higher level.

“We’ve learned that theory doesn’t really equip students with essential employability skills like critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving,” says Rhonda Payne, a professor at Fanshawe’s Lawrence Kinlin School of Business. “They have to leave here knowing how to think critically and creatively; how to problem solve. They have to be able to contribute with confidence.”

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Achieving these aims requires moving beyond classrooms, she says. In the business school, this approach has translated into something Professor Payne refers to as “rounds,” modelled after the training received by medical students. Years one and two of three-year programs are devoted to foundational learning; in their third year, students focus on solving real-world problems.

Kinlin third-year students design their own curriculum by bidding on a selection of business projects brought to the college by local organizations that need help. “We introduce them to 20 or so clients we will be working with and present the client needs. Students then bid on their top three projects. Last year, all projects were fully subscribed in 11 minutes.”

During the projects, students are mentored by faculty subject matter experts as well as people from each client organization. The approach provides a setting for failure as iteration. “We’ve created an environment where students are free to experiment, fail and learn. Over 15 weeks, they will get things wrong and fix it until it’s right,” says Professor Payne.

Experiential learning is woven into every program and course at Fanshawe, says Lisa Schwerzmann, associate dean of the Kinlin School.

[Students] have to leave here knowing how to think critically and creatively; how to problem solve. They have to be able to contribute with confidence.

— Rhonda Payne, a professor at Fanshawe’s Lawrence Kinlin School of Business

The reactions from clients are rewarding for both students and faculty, she says. “We often hear, ‘I had no idea that this is what I was looking for.’ For example, the local kombucha company Booch, one of our clients in the winter semester, came in asking for ideas on creating a recycling program for their bottles. They walked away with a whole branding, social media and marketing plan. They were just so impressed with the depth of understanding.”

Many of the college’s clients are organizations that don’t have the resources to secure extensive consulting services, including many non-profits, so the programs are vital to the health of the community and the growth of local economies. For students, it is an opportunity to cement their knowledge and prepare for a seamless transfer to the workplace, says Ms. Schwerzmann.

David Belford, Innovation Village’s executive director, describes the project as having two primary components. “One is a new teaching and learning strategy designed to help students better prepare for the workplace and for jobs of the future. The other is a new facility, called the i4C Hub, which will include a modern learning commons, new high-capacity labs and other workspaces that encourage collaboration between students and between students and external partners.”

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The reimagined library and learning commons will provide easy access to research services and publications, the Centre for Research and Innovation manages funded research projects and Leap Junction, the centre for entrepreneurship provides support for new business planning and set up, he explains. A visualization lab will allow students and clients to create in virtual and augmented reality, and a maker space will provide access to cutting-edge equipment.

The facility and teaching approaches are responses to feedback from industry and community through Fanshawe’s advisory boards, says Mr. Belford. “We talk about ideas such as novel and adaptive thinking, social intelligence and understanding how to work with people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds.

“With Innovation Village, we’re opening up the college in a new way to make it clear to organizations out there that we have students and faculty ready to do this kind of work – and to make it even easier to engage.”


Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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