New Interaction Lab at Camosun College 'Re-Awakens Spirit of Applied Learning'
The opening of the Babcock Canada Interaction Lab represents a symbolic reawakening of the spirit of applied learning throughout the college, explains Camosun’s Director of Applied Learning Nancy Sly. “When we’re talking about applied learning, I don’t want us to forget that it’s at the core of who we are and what we do and it always has been. Now we are at a point where we are able to realign and reinvest so that we can take applied learning, research, interdisciplinary collaboration and experiential learning to another level.”
“It’s an opportunity to deepen the conversations about what applied learning means for all of us,” says Sly. “Our job is to help our instructors from different faculties bring new and innovative approaches to teaching and learning both within and outside the classroom. And for those who’ve always incorporated applied learning, we are going to learn from them what the best practices are.”
Applied learning has been a life-long passion for Sly, who as a child recalls watching her accountant father teach himself at night the necessary electrical and other technical skills to build a new family home. Both her parents encouraged her to learn by doing. “Right from the get go, I was told, if you want to make a difference, you put your hand up to do things,” she says. During her last two years of high school, she was accepted into a unique education program where the focus was on experiential learning rather than traditional tests or rote learning. Her career route led to her to the postsecondary sector, where she has worked in colleges both in Canada and Australia. For the past 27 years, she has brought her passion for educational innovation to Camosun College, currently as Director of Applied Learning where she helps to lead a high level college committee focussed on achieving real-world results.
Set up in 2016, the committee has been tasked with bringing forward the applied learning agenda to all aspects of the Camosun experience. “We started talking and asking the important questions,” she says. “What does applied research and learning mean? How do we move it forward as a college? We’ve got to a point where applied learning is an umbrella for many things including interdisciplinary partnerships and working with community partners such as industry and non-profit groups. We’re working with faculty and staff to identify and break down barriers to integrating these sorts of partnerships into their everyday work.”
While meeting with community partners, Sly often hears that workplaces value the kinds of hands-on experience that Camosun offers. “Employers tell us that they’d rather hire someone with real-world experience who’s gained that through different organizations and industries,” she says. “What we’re aiming for with our applied learning agenda, is to promote the kinds of community, non profit, government and industry connections that build bridges between staff, instructors and students, so that the educational experience is strongly informed by those real-world scenarios, relationships and networks.”
When the new Babcock Canada Interaction Lab was officially opened with a special ‘virtual ribbon’ cutting on October 24, Sly was in the audience cheering. “It’s a milestone moment for the college,” she says. “It’s really an exciting way of announcing that as a college we are renewing applied learning and innovation as the core of what sets us apart from other post secondary institutions.”
As its name suggests, the physical space throughout the lab is designed to promote ‘interaction’ and to bring together staff, students, faculty and community partners to work across disciplines on ideas that they can turn into reality. “We want instructors to think about bringing their class there to use some unique features such as the writeable wall,” says Sly. “Or to have multiple classes come together to discuss a real-world problem that cuts across disciplines so that we have people from arts, business, social sciences, trades, and health all working and learning together.”
Sly notes that while the Interaction Lab is equipped with state of the art equipment, it’s a compelling concept that is a lot more than the sum of its parts. “We want everyone at the college to know that you don’t need to go to the physical lab to include interactive applied learning,” she says. “We’re going to do our best to support you to bring that spirit and approach to your courses and programs wherever you teach in the college.”