Before proposing a new experiential learning (EL) activity or implementing significant revisions to an existing opportunity, it is helpful to focus on your goals and how you might be supported in meeting those goals. Although developing EL opportunities can be exciting, it is essential to take time to set up the opportunity for success, and intentionally develop the opportunity in a way that centres equity, diversity, inclusion and access (EDIA).
As you begin to plan or review your EL opportunity, identify which stakeholders might be involved in the planning or review process, ensure diverse identities are represented, and which of those stakeholders will participate in the decision-making. Planning and implementing EDIA initiatives is most effective when guided by a group that includes individuals with diverse perspectives, backgrounds and levels of influence.
- Consider how you might ensure that a diverse range of stakeholders (e.g., students, partners) might participate in the design process for your EL opportunity, and what support mechanisms (such as funding sources) exist to enable them to participate.
- Involve students in the design process, and in assessing barriers and solutions. When consulting with students, take care to ensure that there is representation of students from equity-deserving groups. Consider how you might compensate students for their participation in the design process, and how compensation may encourage students (including those who have not previously participated in EL) to engage with you.
- In work-integrated learning (WIL) and community-engaged learning (CEL) opportunities, you might involve external partners in your design process. Co-design is of particular importance for community-engaged learning opportunities to ensure that opportunities are not extractive and exploitative for both the students and communities involved in the opportunity; the Centre for Community Partnerships can provide guidance in this area.
- Consider joining or establishing a unit-wide/departmental EL committee that centres EDIA in its approach; this can support you in setting priorities for the overall design of the opportunity. Where possible, aim to include the perspectives of students and partners in the committee.
- Seek out the advice of a colleague from another professional or academic background or department who has different perspectives and can offer constructive and collegial feedback.
Delivering EL opportunities can be resource and labour intensive. Gaining support from unit or divisional leadership is essential. Ideally, opportunities should be developed to align with unit/departmental strategic objectives, and with sustainability in mind to support, where relevant, students in having continued access to the opportunity. For partnered opportunities, creating a longer-term plan to work together can allow for deeper and more meaningful relationships to be developed with partners, to the benefit of all participants.
- Consider how the EL opportunity might align with the vision and goals of your department, or the strategic plan of your unit or institution. By aligning the EL opportunity with existing priorities, it can help to build a strong foundation and justification for the value of the program. Similarly, consider any departmental, divisional or institutional EDIA goals and objectives and how these might support your EL opportunity.
- Learn about the processes involved in gaining approval for your EL opportunity and determine who may need to be involved. The Experiential Learning & Outreach Support Office (Faculty of Arts & Science) or your divisional EL Office can help guide you, if needed.
- Think about what intersections your EL opportunity may have with others currently offering EL on campus. Make an effort to consult with relevant individuals where potential synergies may exist, particularly for partnered EL opportunities. The Experiential Learning & Outreach Support Office (Faculty of Arts & Science) or your divisional EL office can assist you in identifying any competing or complementary EL opportunities that you may want to consider.
Your approach to partnership development should be considered carefully and intentionally, and will be influenced by the type of EL opportunity you are creating (e.g., WIL, CEL). Aim to include partners that demonstrate a commitment to advancing EDIA in their organization. While many organizations are striving to become more inclusive, there is still much work to be done; similarly, as U of T strives to enhance equity in all areas, this work is iterative and evolving. When possible, work collaboratively and reciprocally with partners to build more inclusive practices that support a diversity of students.
- When identifying and securing potential partners for EL opportunities, include a broad range of partners that reflect students' varying needs and interests (e.g., partners that represent a variety of fields, partners who offer remote opportunities, partners who focus on serving specific populations, etc.). For instance, you might consider:
- Are there identity-related (e.g., faith-based, 2SLGBTQ+) organizations that you could approach as potential partners?
- Can students suggest possible partners?
- Have you included organizations led by Indigenous, Black and Racialized individuals?
- Are positions geographically distributed and accessible for students to travel to, and/or is there potential for remote work?
- What industries, organizational values and practices are represented in the list of partners?
- Data can be helpful in assessing a potential partner’s commitment to equity. Where possible and relevant, ask partners to share employment equity or demographic data and/or highlight initiatives that show a commitment to EDIA, beyond diversity statements. For example, while an organization may have a diversity statement, these statements alone do not necessarily indicate meaningful actions towards advancing EDIA, and may in some cases conceal inequities.
- Data can also be helpful in assessing student experiences with partners. It is helpful at this early stage to think about how you might gather your own data on student participation and experiences in the EL opportunity. Consider how you might use these data to ensure that your partners are engaging with a diversity of students in an equitable, inclusive manner, without any concerning trends. For example, you can plan to review which students are offered opportunities and which students do not tend to make it past the application or interview stage.
EL can involve various expenses (e.g., honorariums for speakers or partners when relevant, cost of specialized software, etc.) and require additional resources to deliver the opportunity. Furthermore, from the student’s perspective, engaging in EL (particularly unpaid EL) can feel out of reach for some students due to financial and time restraints (Malatest, 2018; Academia Group, 2016; Sattler & Peters, 2013). Students may need to give up paid work to take on unpaid experience, as well as balance commuting and technology expenses, registration fees, required work-related clothing or equipment, caregiving responsibilities and other unexpected financial costs.
- Explore the types of supports available to you — might there be teaching support, administrative staff, work-study or co-op students and/or technological platforms that can help you manage and minimize your workload while still implementing a meaningful learning experience for students? The Experiential Learning & Outreach Support Office (Faculty of Arts & Science) or your divisional EL offices will be able to provide guidance.
- Keep participation costs as low as possible to encourage participation from all students. Assess upfront costs required to participate and determine whether they are necessary. For example, an EL opportunity located far from campus may require students to arrange alternate transportation, which would result in additional costs.
- Identify possible funding avenues to mitigate the costs in cases where students are required to cover expenses for participating in specific opportunities (e.g., vulnerable sector checks). Inform students about bursaries and other funding avenues that are dedicated to students who need financial support. Encourage students to connect with their College Registrars or academic departments, who may have additional information on available grants and bursaries. Where possible, try to make the process as clear and straightforward as you can, and refer students to resources or services that can provide guidance on drafting a strong application for financial support.
- For partnered-EL opportunities, where appropriate, advocate for paid opportunities for students with employer and community partners, so that students are fairly remunerated for the contributions they make. Where paid opportunities are not possible, encourage partners to offer alternative remuneration, such as a transit pass or stipend.
- Advocate and/or collaborate with your department, unit or Advancement Office to offer (more) funding opportunities for students in EL programs.
EDIA in EL may not be your area of expertise, but there are many tools, resources and services that you can leverage to increase your knowledge and confidence, as well as help you better support students. You can get started by taking some time to reflect on systemic barriers to participating in EL, as well as any assumptions, beliefs or unconscious biases you might hold, as these can impact the design and delivery of the EL opportunity. As you work through this process, take an asset-based approach which seeks to identify positive strengths and capabilities of the diversity of students you may be engaging with.
- Register yourself (and your team or collaborators, if relevant) for EDIA training to increase your understanding of systemic barriers, so that you can consider these in the context of equity-deserving students participating in EL. For instance, you can complete unconscious bias training to understand how biases can influence your work. The University also has several equity offices that provide training more broadly on various topics, including key strategies to advancing racial equity, understanding the meaning of reconciliation, promoting gender inclusion and providing guidance for meeting the requirement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Reflecting on your own positionality and biases will enable to you to better support equity-deserving students.
- Consider engaging with colleagues and peers in ongoing discussions on EDIA in EL. You can use these opportunities to apply principles that you have learned via EDIA training to your own local context. For example, you can discuss ways to integrate EDIA considerations within your curriculum to make it more inclusive, while also discussing how you might address and respond to any sensitive issues should they come up.
- Familiarize yourself with different pedagogies and approaches to developing learning experiences, including anti-racist pedagogy and integrating Indigenous approaches into the design of your opportunity, amongst others. When unsure, consult with individuals who can provide guidance; for example, you might find it helpful to reach out to U of T equity offices for support.
- Make an effort to create workplaces that are more inclusive. As part of this process, it can be helpful to review departmental/unit hiring practices as well, and seek to include staff, faculty and teaching assistants whose lived experiences are reflective of your student population.